The American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway certainly knew how to write. But as well as a pen (or a typewriter), he also knew how to handle a frying pan and a hamburger flipper. Which is perhaps not surprising given the vivid, lingering descriptions of food you often find in Hemingway’s work.
In between writing classic novels including For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and A Moveable Feast, Hemingway also found time while living out the last years of his life in Cuba to note down his recipe for a lean, mean hamburger.
This hamburger recipe came to light when a huge cache of his personal files, donated to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum by his widow Mary Hemingway, were made public in 2013.
According to the JFK Museum: “Mary Hemingway saw the Kennedy Library as a fitting place for her late husband’s papers due to the role President Kennedy played in helping her collect them after Hemingway’s death.
“In 1961, despite a US ban on travel to Cuba (the result of high tensions between the two countries following the Bay of Pigs invasion), President Kennedy made arrangements for her to enter Cuba to claim family documents and belongings.
“While in Cuba, Mrs Hemingway met with Fidel Castro who allowed her to take her husband’s papers and the artwork he collected in exchange for the donation of their Finca Vigia home and its remaining belongings to the Cuban people.”
So here it is, without the extra handwritten notes, which were added by his fourth wife, Mary.
Ernest Hemingway Hamburger Recipe
Variations on the theme of ground beef —3
PAPA’S FAVOURITE HAMBURGER. There is no reason why a fried hamburger has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless. You can add all sorts of goodies and flavors to the ground beef – minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, ground almonds, a big dollop of Piccalilli, or whatever your eye lights on. Papa prefers this combination.
1 lb. 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
Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning – ½ teaspoon
Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder – ½ teaspoon
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About one third cup dry red or white wine.
1 tablespoon cooking oil.
What to do —
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 four 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.
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a food writer, noted in The Paris Review that you can’t get the Mei Yen Powder made by Spice Islands anymore. So she recommends this recipe as a replacement:
9 parts salt
9 parts sugar
2 parts MSG
If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.