She had come direct from her village on the East of Manhattan. She’d brought with her two of the key ingredients. Two stalks of green onions from the bodega in her village. It was run by a hardworking man named Manolo. His prices there were firm, but fair. But most importantly, the dry white wine.

They opened the bottle and took a drink. It was cool and metallic. The first sip felt good. Crisp and dry with the faintest mineral from the rocks in the soil. It was then that he pulled out the recipe for “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger.” The “Wild West” added in Ernest Hemingway’s handwriting to a typewritten page recently scanned in from papers he’d left behind in Cuba.

Her lipstick ringed the glass and she smiled at the man.

“How was your day did y—”

“Please try to understand these instructions. They’re given knowing your goodwill in working hard to shop and cook well.”


He scowled, not looking at her.

“If there’s something that you don’t understand or some problem, explain it to me and not to Mr. Hemingway, who has enough problems of his own in his work as a writer.”

The man looked up at the pretty young actress. Who was frowning.

“Sorry. I’m just reading through the pages. Hemingway wrote that in Spanish, presumably to a maid or housekeeper. But he pretended it was written by his wife.”

The girl still looked hurt. He had not been rough with her before. But she did not like it.

“Why don’t you just stick to the recipe there, Papa.”

PAPA’S FAVORITE HAMBURGER. 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 flavors 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.

Ingredients —
1 lb. ground lean beef
2 cloves, minced garlic
2 little green onions, finely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
2 tablespoons, capers
1 heaping teaspoon, 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 cup dry red or white wine.
1 tablespoon cooking oil

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.

After reading over the recipe the man—oh, fuck it, I—was surprised that Spice Islands still exists and still makes Beau Monde Seasoning—a mix of celery, dried onion and salt. I bought fresh sage. Used Maille Pickled Cornichons and chutney instead of “India relish.” S.O.L. on Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder. Discontinued in Hem’s time. (You can make it at home with 9 parts salt, 9 parts sugar, 2 parts MSG and 1/8 tsp of soy sauce. If you love sodium as much as this guy.)

The two absolute key parts follow:

1) Ingredients go pretty much in order. Sorted by category. Fresh, dry, wet. The order is important and the meat will look and smell better than you remember. But before and after you add the egg and wine: Let it marinate for 10 minutes.

This is, incidentally, great advice for writers. Finish your prep. Do your work. Then set it aside. In college I studied with P.F. Kluge, the writer of “The Boys in the Bank,” the Life magazine story that became the award-winning Al Pacino flick Dog Day Afternoon. He had zero patience for sloppy student work. But beyond that he said that when you have a full book manuscript: “Put it aside for 6 weeks. Let it marinate.”

It takes patience and planning. But here is where the other two-thirds of that bottle of wine come in handy.

2) The most important step happens on the stove. “Have the oil in your frying-pan hot but not smoking” is one of Hemingway’s great sentences. It won’t make sense until you are there and you understand it. Oil in pan. Turn the heat up. How high? Hot but not smoking.

Cook the burgers for four minutes per side. And most importantly: “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.” Don’t eyeball it. Set the stove timer. Trust Hemingway.

The true flavor of the burger comes from what happens between the metal surface of the pan and the outside of the patty.

The recipe also doesn’t expressly mention cheese. But in Hemingway’s lovely scrawl there is some gibberish about “cheddar grated cheese… mixed in carrots. We took that to mean we could have cheese. But we did first split one Hemingway burger. No ketchup. No fixin’s.

It was good. And the weight felt good on them as the man did the dishes while the pretty young actress uploaded this sweet Vine.