When items from writer Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home Finca Vigía (‘Lookout Farm’) were donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, one note told his staff how to create his favourite hamburgers: “ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the centre red and juicy.”
In a letter to his third wife Martha Gelhorn, Hemingway wrote: “Don’t know how it is with you but terrible hard for me to write immediately after war. As though all the taste buds were burned off.” Food and writing were part and parcel of life’s flavours.
In A Moveable Feast, a 1964 memoir about his years as a struggling expat journalist and writer in Paris during the 1920s, he writes: “After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love.” Food restores him. “I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away… and as I drank their cold liquid… I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
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 — 1/2 teaspoon
Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — 1/2 teaspoon
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About 1/3 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 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.
As the burger simmers, let’s look at what ready-meals Hemingway (1899-1961) ate, via an April, 1957 order to Maison Glass (above), a gourmet emporium in New York City. The order features tins of whole guinea hen, whole pheasant, cèpes, lobster bisque, rose petal jelly. All should be shipped to Finca Vigía “by Air Express as you usually do”.
And then he’s off to the campsite.
“It is all right to talk about roughing it in the woods,” he wrote in his essay Camping Out: When You Camp Out, Do It Right for the Toronto Star. “But the real woodsman is the man who can be really comfortable in the bush… The rock that wrecks most camping trips is cooking. The average tyro’s idea of cooking is to fry everything and fry it good and plenty.” So here is his recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Trout and corn cakes:
2 (10-ounce) whole trout, cleaned and gutted
1/2 cup cornmeal
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lemon, sliced
6 slices bacon
Fresh parsley, for garnish
1. Preheat broiler and set oven rack 4 to 6 inches from heat. With a paper towel, pat trout dry inside and out. Dredge outside of each fish in cornmeal, then season cavity with salt and pepper. Place 4 sprigs of thyme and 2 lemon slices inside each fish.
2. Wrap 3 bacon slices around the middle of each fish, so that the edges overlap slightly. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil, and place fish on pan. Broil until bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. With a spatula, carefully flip fish over and cook another 5 minutes, until flesh is firm.
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (either fresh off the cob or thawed)
2 green onions, white parts only, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
Canola oil, for frying
1. In a food processor, add corn and green onions and pulse 4 to 5 times, until finely chopped. In a large bowl, stir together corn mixture, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, red chile flakes, salt, and sugar.
2. In a small bowl, combine egg, buttermilk, and butter. Add to corn mixture, stirring until just combined.
3. Coat a large skillet or pancake griddle with oil. Over medium heat, spoon batter onto pan in 1/4 cups and fry until cakes are golden on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
And now for a drink. Or perhaps first a drink and then another. Legend has it that Hemingway was at Havana’s El Floridita bar when he spotted the bartender making Daiquiris. Hemingway tried one. But thought it better with no sugar and double the rum. The bartender made one, and then named the drink after him.
The Hemingway Daiquiri
2 ounces white rum
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
Garnish: lime wheel
Add the rum, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and grapefruit juice into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a coupe glass.
Garnish with a lime wheel.
The story goes that Hemingway scarfed 16 double daiquiris at La Floridita in one sitting.
If it’s the game you’re after, then how about some lion, raw (roar!), naturally? He was also partial to bear, elk, squirrel and antelope. How often he mistook the zoo for the butcher’s shop is not known. In How It Was, Mary Hemingway, his fourth wife, recalls a big cat meal while on safari in Kenya (he never ate the small ones):
“Ernest’s lion was a young male in his prime, with immense fore- and hind-leg muscles and thick bones and muscles in his paws. Watching the skinning, Ernest bent down and with his pocketknife cut out a bit of the tenderloin beside the spine, chewed some and offered me a tidbit. We both thought the clean pink flesh delicious, steak tartar without the capers… Thereafter, Ernest and I had the lion marinated in sherry with some herbs and grilled over N’bebia’s cookfire… Later we dressed it up with garlic and onion and various tomato and cheese sauces.”
Lead Image: Mary Welsh Hemingway and Ernest, Popperfoto
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