By Quinn Western The Sacramento Bee
He was a soldier, a boxer, a hunter, a fisherman, a drinker, a father and the writer of words and stories that aimed to be, above all else, true and honest and pure.
He also knew how to make one hell of a hamburger.
Ernest Hemingway would have turned 115 this July, and the man behind acclaimed novels such as “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Old Man and the Sea” continues to generate reader interest — and not just in literary circles.
The culinary world buzzed about his work earlier this year when the recipe for “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger” — typed but with hand-written annotations — was released by John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum in Boston.
The baroque burger, featuring more than a dozen ingredients including India relish, mei yen powder, carrots, ham, apples, eggs, cheese and wine, stands in stark contrast to the author’s famously economical prose.
But make no mistake: This burger is pure Hemingway, larger than life and full of adventure. Esquire magazine deemed it the manliest of quarter pounders, and The Times-Picayune called it “beautiful yet refined.”
If you’re thinking about making “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger,” gathering the variety of ingredients is the first challenge. Here’s a shortcut:
• Spice Islands mei yen powder (discontinued years ago) can be homemade with nine parts salt, nine parts sugar and two parts MSG, according to an adaptation by The Paris Review. Then mix 2/3 teaspoon of the dry recipe with 1/8 teaspoon of soy sauce.
• Add the rest of the ingredients, including dousing the meat in 1/3 cup of wine. Then “let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another 10 minutes, if possible.”
• Heat the oil and place four thick patties in the frying pan. The recipe’s cook time is spot on for a pink-in-the-middle burger.
• Health-conscious folks might want to skip the MSG, but without it, the burger can be bland. Carrot shavings and capers add texture, and the apples provides a little sweetness.
• As for a pairing, Boreth recommends a rough, red Italian wine.
Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger
1 pound ground lean beef
2 cloves, minced garlic
2 little green onions, finely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon India relish
2 tablespoons, capers
1 heaping teaspoon Spice Islands sage
½ teaspoon Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning
½ Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About 1/3 cup dry red or white wine
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Handwritten notes list: grated apple, cheddar cheese, carrots, “standard ham,” soy sauce, onion, garlic, tomato and salt and pepper as additions to the recipe.
(Eds. note: Taken verbatim from Hemingway’s original recipe) “Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible. Now make your fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying pan hot but not smoking when you drop in the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.”