nathan's famous hot dogs and upton sinclair -- 2/22/17

Today's selection -- from Famous Nathan by Lloyd Handwerker & Gil Reavill. When Nathan Handwerker, who immigrated from Galicia in Central-Eastern Europe, opened his legendary hot dog stand -- Nathan's Famous -- in Coney Island, New York in 1916, he had to battle the horrific reputation of meat production that came from Upton Sinclair's 1906 exposé of the industry in his novel The Jungle:

"[A] lack of manufacturing standards and lax food inspection meant that sausages were oftentimes made from unhealthy, decayed, if not downright poisonous components. Lin­gering in the public imagination was the common German practice of incorporating dogmeat into sausage recipes. Horsemeat was an­other widely rumored ingredient. Meat-packers added sawdust and fillers to their products, regularly adulterating the links with formaldehyde and other toxic preservatives.

"Upton Sinclair's popular 1906 novel, The Jungle, painted a horrific picture of meat production. The filth, sludge, and scraps from the slaughterhouse floor, Sinclair reported, were swept up to provide filler for sausages. The book had a hugely negative impact on meat sales in general and sausage sales in particular, helping spur passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. ...

"Nathan opened his store a full decade after publication of The Jungle. He worked hard to combat any unsavory associations the public might have with the product he sold. He explained to worried customers that there was a law in New York State, stipu­lating that if horsemeat was used in a food, a sign had to be posted saying so. 'No horsemeat!' Nathan pledged.

"Displaying the beginnings of a true Coney Island sense of showmanship, he hired a half dozen hospital orderlies, dressed them in white lab coats and stethoscopes, and then posed them at his counters, wolfing down frankfurters. Another sign went up over his counter: 'If Doctors Eat Here It Must Be Good!' The idea was that if even physicians ate at Nathan's Famous, it just had to be safe and healthful. Just because the store's dogs were cheap at a nickel, they were good for you and were never, ever made from inferior ingredients.

"Nathan distinguished his product in another way, too. The Nathan's frankfurter was all beef, made from quality cuts, brisket ends, beef cheeks, and sirloin scraps. Down the way on Surf Ave­nue, Feltman's dachshund sandwich was made with a pork sausage. Nathan sold a frankfurter that was billed as 'kosher-style,' mean­ing that while it hadn't undergone the rigorous, rabbi-monitored production of a true kosher dog, it was still all beef, never pork. In the public mind-even in the non-Jewish public mind -- 'kosher' was always associated with 'quality.'

"Another prime element to the Nathan's Famous frankfurter was its casing, made from sheep intestines imported from Switzer­land. The casing served to concentrate the juices inside the sau­sage and lend it extra flavor. But there was also a delightful tactile aspect to using natural casing. A distinctive snap! came with the first bite. The sound itself became a signature of the store's hot dogs just as much as their all-beef filling.

"Sticking with natural casing became a point of pride with Nathan, especially after frankfurters made without casings began dominating the market. The skinless hot dog first appeared in Chicago in 1922, courtesy of an innovator named Erwin O. Freund. Working out of Chicago's Union Stock Yard -- the same sprawl­ing abattoir infamous from Sinclair's The Jungle -- Freund made an enormous fortune from the development of an artificial casing that could replace animal intestines in the production of sausages.

"The skinless hot dog is not really skinless in that it begins its life encased in an artificial casing of cellulose. The casing is cre­ated in a chemical process similar to that in the manufacturing of rayon fabric. Freund accidentally discovered that when his artifi­cial casing was stripped away from the sausage, the meat filling retained its shape. The skinless hot dog was born."


author:

Lloyd Handwerker and Gil Reavill

title:

Famous Nathan: A Family Saga of Coney Island, the American Dream, and the Search for the Perfect Hot Dog

publisher:

Flatiron Books

date:

Copyright 2016 by Lloyd Handwerker

pages:

92-98

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