Ernest Hemingway's Hamburger

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Ernest Hemingway in Pamplona
Ernest Hemingway in Pamplona

We present a must eat for all Hemingway fans - the definitive hamburger recipe created by the man himself

Ernest Hemingway’s writing is work of deceptive simplicity; stories of love, war, nature and death that slice deep into the seams of the human experience, exposing its mechanics in painful clarity. Like life, his stories unfurl to the rhythms of food, drink, conversation and love making, and nowhere is this better expressed than in A Moveable Feast, an account of his years in Paris between the wars.

Jangling with nostalgia, depicting young lives lived entirely in the moments between meals, where the twin hungers of ambition and the belly are the driving forces pushing them into the immediate future, A Moveable Feast has become the definitive perspective of Paris in the roaring 20s. As Hemingway himself proclaimed, “we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other”; a line that has become the manifesto of every aspiring author and hedonist since.

“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other” — Ernest Hemingway

The years took Hemingway away from Paris, to war, Spain, Cuba and Nobel-prize-winning fame. But his life continued to be lived in the pursuit of pleasure – be it from the precision of his prose, the love of many different women, and of course the best food and drink he could find. This latter is wonderfully demonstrated in the extensive archives of Hemingway’s personal papers that are currently being digitised at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Among shopping lists, instructions for servants – avocados should be served ungarnished, the milk from the family cow was reserved only for the many beloved cats – and precise notation of the author's day-to-day weight fluctuation, lie recipes for Papa's (Hemingway's) favourite meals, detailing not only the ingredients but also his precise preferences for the preparation of each meal. So, to inspire you for a fully hedonistic weekend, we present the authentic Hemingway burger.

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 flavours to the ground beef – minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, chopped almonds, a big dollop of piccadilli, 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 heaped teaspoon India relish
2 tablespoons capers
1 heaped teaspoon of 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 of a cup dry red or white wine.
1 tablespoon of cooking oil

Spice Islands discontinued Mei Yen Powder three years ago, but you can recreate it with 9 parts salt, 9 parts sugar, 2 parts MSG. If a recipe calls for 1 tsp Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of this recipe mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.

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.

Text by Tish Wrigley