How to Make Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Burger

02/13/2014 at 04:40 PM ET

Ernest Hemingway
Pictorial Parade/Getty

Ernest Hemingway devoted entire paragraphs in his novels to detailed descriptions of food — and turns out he was just as particular about his chow in real life.

The author’s hamburger recipe was just released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s Hemingway Letters Project, and it’s a doozy.

“Papa’s Favorite Hamburger” (referring to Hemingway’s nickname) calls for nine ingredients to be mixed into lean ground beef — including Spice Islands mei yen power, soy sauce, garlic, India relish, capers and wine — before forming it into “fat, juicy patties” and frying them in oil so the final product is crispy brown on all sides and “the middle pink and juicy.”

You’ll see hand-written notes all over the recipe, including one calling for grated cheddar to be added to the patty blend.

Sandra Spanier, general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, told the BBC that some of the Asian ingredients in Hemingway’s recipe followed his love of Chinese foods.

The burger, she added, shines a light on Hemingway’s characteristic “gusto.”

“It’s indicative of his enjoyment of the pleasures in life,” and shows off his wide range of tastes, from expensive to common, she said.

Our favorite line of the recipe: “There is no reason why a fried hamburger has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless.” Amen, Ernest. Check out the full recipe below:

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway Papers Collection, Museum Ernest

—Andrea Billups

FILED UNDER: Burgers , Food , Food News , Recipes

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Showing 4 comments

Guest on

Sorry, I cannot eat pink, (even in just the middle) hamburger. My meat needs to be cooked, not dried out, and yes it can be done without ruining taste, texture, and quality.

John J Foote on

Sounds good, Love Beau Monde. The crisping part was common,that is the way my mother and grand mother did it;love it a little pink.

Jess on

Mmmm capers sounds interesting. I love capers in my pasta but never tried it on a burger. My mother has always browned the outside until it’s very crispy. Yum

Colleen on

Had never heard of the Mei Yen Seasoning, found this online at: http://www.talkfood.com/forum/showthread.php/7538-Mei-Yen-seasoning

“Mei Yen Seasoning Substitute
I contacted Spice Islands asking them if they could recommend a substitution for Mei Yen seasoning as several recipes in their cookbook require it and I could find it no where. They responded as follows:

Spice Islands Mei Yen has been discontinued, but you can make your own by combing: 9 parts salt, 9 parts sugar, 2 parts MSG

Combine and store in tightly closed container. To use, if recipe calls for 1 tsp. Mei Yen: use 2/3 tsp. substitute recipe and either 1/8 tsp. bouillon powder or 1/8 tsp. soy sauce. “

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