Hamburger vs hamburg

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Sat Jul 14 21:56:41 UTC 2001

James A. Landau said:
>In a message dated 07/14/2001 3:45:26 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
>faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU writes:
>> And where does Salisbury steak fit into the picture?
>Far from being a euphemism for "hamburger", Salisbury Steak was invented by
>Dr. James Salisbury, a Civil War-era doctor and a pioneer in bacteriology (he
>did work on germ causation of disease before Pasteur and Koch, but failed to
>make any important contributions to the field.)  Salisbury also had a theory
>on diets, which included that properly prepared meat was necessary for
>health.  He invented the Salisbury Steak as---it is hard to picture this
>nowadays---a health food.
>It is not clear how much connection there is between the Salisbury steak, the
>hamburger patty, the hamburger-on-a-bun, and other ground beek recipes.  The
>use of the word "hamburger", at a time when the Salisbury steak was
>reasonably well known, suggests that our modern hamburger developed and
>became popular through a folk process that had little if anything to do with
>Dr. Salisbury.  However, this is only my guess.

Well, thinking back to canonical Salisbury steaks from my youth, all that
they have in common with hamburgers is that they're made of ground beef.
Hamburgers are thick and juicy and an appropriate shape to be served on a
bun with ketchup, onion, and pickle relish (no tomatoes, lettuce,
mayonnaise, or mustard). Salisbury steaks are thinner and cover up more
space on a plate. They're served with (mushroom) gravy. It's possible (even
desireable) to have a medium-rare hamburger; but all Salisbury steaks are
uniformly well done.

I could imagine that the original Salisbury steak was more like what we
would call a cube steak, that is, a single, integral piece of meat whose
fibers have been broken up by a medieval torture device. This "torture"
might be believed to make the meat more easily digestible.
Alice Faber                                       tel. (203) 865-6163
Haskins Laboratories                              fax  (203) 865-8963
270 Crown St                                   faber at
New Haven, CT 06511                               afaber at

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