Steaming hot dogs, crested with golden mustard and sandwiched by the light-as-air taste of a milk bun, come as close as anything to being America's favorite snack. Sold for years on the sidewalks of New York during the 19th century, they took hold of the national appetite in the midwestern summer of 1904, when families from every state flocked to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.
Always there is an echo of carefree childhood when that first bite releases the pungent, spicy juices—a taste that brings back scouting cookouts, the hot canvas of the circus, a sultry Sunday riding an inner tube down the Apple River. Millions of men can look back to the first food they ever cooked and know that it was a hot dog. Millions of women, too.
The hot dog is nostalgic. It is legendary, so legendary that it has been said that it was invented in Frankfurt am Main in the 16th century, or that the first of its kind was made from dog meat at the command of Frederick the Great during the Seven Years' War, or that the Frankfurt Butchers Guild produced the original, in the shape of a dachshund, in 1852. In the Odyssey, the sausage line leads back to the ninth century B.C., when Homer wrote: "As when a man near a great glowing fire turns to and fro a sausage, full of fat and blood, anxious to have it quickly roasted; so to and fro Odysseus tossed, and pondered how to lay hands upon the shameless suitors."
The more modern fact, however, is that sway-back sausages, red with beef and pork and served on a bun to facilitate eating with the fingers, were first called hot dogs by the cartoonist Tad Dorgan. Tad was at the Polo Grounds the day in 1900 that vendors introduced "red-hot dachshund sausages" to baseball fans, and the next day he made cartoon characters of them, giving them tails and feet—and the label "hot dogs." Dorgan continued the gag for years and the humorous name stuck, in spite of recurrent dismay on the part of manufacturers and vendors who wanted no canine connotations tied to their products.
The actual ingredients of hot dogs vary from 60% beef and 40% pork to 80% beef and 20% fat, with a closely guarded spice formula added. (If you want the accolade of garlic, ask for kosher franks.) The meat is chopped and blended, then stuffed into casings by special machinery. The stuffed cases are hung on racks to smoke and then are cooked. Five inches long and ready to eat when packaged, frankfurters, wieners or hot dogs—call them what you will—average 120 calories apiece. It has been said (by a maker of sausage casings) that 1,155,600,000 pounds of them will be consumed in the U.S. this year—60 per person. Nobody knows how many of these will be toasted by small-boy cooks, but more than 1.5 million will be sold at Comiskey Park and it is estimated that at one hot-dog stand alone—the Coney Island mecca known as Nathan's Famous—there will be 75,000 sizzling, bun-wrapped franks sold on the Fourth of July, doubling the number pushed across the same counter on an average summer day. Hot dogs have a way of enhancing holidays.
They also can enhance any family's menus when combined with other ingredients. Here are some ideas:
For four persons quarter a pound of frankfurters lengthwise, then cut into quarter-inch pieces. Slice enough mushrooms to make one cup, and chop two teaspoons of parsley. In a skillet over low heat melt six tablespoons of butter, add the frankfurters and sauté for five minutes. Add mushrooms, one minced clove of garlic, one teaspoon each of black pepper and salt. Cover the skillet and simmer five minutes; add parsley. Now heat four tablespoons of cognac, set it aflame and pour over frankfurter-mush' room mixture. Serve immediately on toast.
HOT DOGS IN A BUNDLE
Wash six large cabbage leaves, then cook in boiling salted water for five minutes; drain and set aside. Make a deep incision, four inches long, in each of six frankfurters; fill the slits with one-inch wide strips of sharp cheese. Wrap each frankfurter in a cabbage leaf and place the bundles in a lightly greased baking dish. Cover with the tomato sauce described below and bake at 350° for 20 minutes.
Put ¼ CUP of olive oil in a heavy skillet; chop one large onion and two small cloves of garlic and add to oil; cook 10 minutes but don't let the onions brown. Add ½ cup of bouillon or beef stock, half a 6-ounce can of tomato paste and 2½ cups of Italian tomatoes packed with basil, cutting the tomatoes into small pieces. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn fire as low as possible and add salt, pepper and a teaspoon of sugar. Cook very slowly for at least two hours, the longer the better.