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Chicago Tribune food writers’ attempts to make hot dogs sophisticated, gourmet questionable

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Hot dogs were popular at ball games and here, a hot dog vendor sells to fans at Wrigley Field during a game on April 14, 1970.
Hot dogs were popular at ball games and here, a hot dog vendor sells to fans at Wrigley Field during a game on April 14, 1970. (Phil Mascione/Chicago Tribune) Photo Gallery

CHICAGO — Although the Chicago-style hot dog is arguably the greatest hot dog in the country, for most of the 20th century, Tribune reporters and recipe writers mostly acted deeply embarrassed about the dish.

“Americans in general and housewives in particular are derelict in their duty to the hot dog,” starts a July 6, 1961, article by Thomas Wolfsmith. He then quotes a German chef, Otto Schuetz, who explains that Americans “bury” hot dogs in buns “with no elegance,” unlike Europeans who serve them as a delicacy.

Schuetz recommended serving a dish that combined asparagus, apples, mushrooms, sliced hot dogs and French dressing. Wolfsmith concluded: “Thus does the hot dog gain a place in ‘haute cuisine,’ instead of merely languishing under mustard, relish, chopped onion, and a bun.”

In the mid-20th century, French food was regularly considered fancier and outright better than whatever most Chicago restaurants were serving. This explains an article from March 30, 1960, titled “A Magnificent Hot Dog? This One, Prepared French Style, Is” by Mary Meade. She wrote that chef John Bandera from the Sheraton-Blackstone hotel created a frankfurters bourguignonne “in honor of a 100-year-old Chicago firm whose founder, David Berg, helped bring the hot dog to America.” The recipe, evoking the name of a French beef stew braised in red wine, featured eight frankfurters bathed in a sauce made with butter, shallots, garlic, brown gravy and 3 cups of red wine.

Tribune writer Mary Meade also created her own hot dog recipes over the years, though she almost always read like she was gritting her teeth while doing so. An article on June 25, 1943, by Meade begins: “Mustard and piccalilli covered ‘red hots’ are fine fare for picnics and ball games, but have you figured on the possibilities of frankfurters in your everyday meals?” She then goes on to give a recipe for frankfurters with fried rice and tomatoes.

More than 20 years later, Meade didn’t think much of the hot dog. In an article from June 9, 1966, she starts with this put-down: “A red snapper is a delicate and delicious fish. It says ‘gourmet’ to you when you think about preparing it. That’s not what a wiener says!” Then you can find a recipe called Barbecued Southern Pups, where she recommended covering the sausages in a chili sauce, wrapping them in cornmeal pastry and then baking them.

Not to pick on Meade, but she spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out ways not to use hot dog buns. On June 3, 1958, Meade suggested making “frankfurters in tomato rolls.” “The franks are wrapped in yeast dough — there are seasonings of onion juice, cheese, parsley, and tomato juice. Doesn’t it sound delicious?” On May 30, 1960, she gave a recipe for Ring-a-Rosy Hot Dogs made by “shaping hot dogs like hamburgers,” so they could fit on round buns. To be fair, the April 2, 1971, recipe for frankfurter and sauerkraut skillet sounds like something I’d enjoy.

(While she certainly had her fair share of questionable recipes with hot dogs, there’s an explanation for her mercurial takes on hot dogs. Turns out Mary Meade wasn’t a real name. Instead, the pseudonym was used by a succession of women writers, a common newspaper practice at the time.)

But it’s still hard to imagine enjoying Meade’s Supper Salad Bowl from June 25, 1943, which combined hot dogs with French dressing, green pepper, cottage cheese, grated raw turnip, raw carrot, mayonnaise, lettuce and coleslaw.

I’m also not sure you could pay me to try a “frankfurter skillet supper” (from May 15, 1964), which combines a pound of hot dogs with green onions, chopped green pepper, lima beans, tomato sauce and a whole cup of sour cream. I also would probably pass on the “franks in sour cream sauce,” which can be found in a July 19, 1957, post by Doris Schacht.

Male recipe writers didn’t fare much better. In a recipe column genuinely called “For Men Only!,” not to be confused with another one titled “Wife’s night out,” Morrison Wood called for making Creole frankfurters. The designation is charitably a stretch; I suppose he got that name because of the dash of cayenne pepper and Tabasco.

Even readers got in on the questionable hot dog action. On July 2, 1958, a reader sent in a recipe for Hot Dog Surprises, which combined 1 pound of “frankfurters, chopped fine” with shredded sharp cheese, grated hard boiled eggs, chili sauce, pickle relish, mustard and garlic salt. This mixture was spread on a foil-lined baking sheet and topped with halved buns.

Thankfully, by the 1980s, writers and readers alike seemed to finally understand that Chicago’s best hot dog dish was staring them right in the face the whole time.

Test out the recipes yourself.

Frankfurters Bourguignonne

By Mary Meade, March 30, 1960. Makes 4 servings.

8 frankfurters

2 tablespoons butter

3 teaspoons chopped shallots, onions or chives

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

3 cups claret or Bordeaux wine

24 cooked pearl onions

1/2 pound whole button mushrooms (fresh)

2 cups brown gravy

24 small potato balls, browned in deep fat

1. Cut frankfurters into thirds and saute in butter for about 5 minutes. Remove meat and add shallots and garlic to fat. Simmer 2 or 3 minutes.

2. Add wine and simmer to reduce liquid to 1 cup, which will take about 8 minutes. Add onions, mushrooms and gravy.

3. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

4. Add cooked potatoes and frankfurters and serve over fluffy wild rice.

Supper Salad Bowl

By Mary Meade, June 25, 1943. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

1/2 pound frankfurters

1/2 cup French dressing

1/4 cup chopped green pepper

1 cup cottage cheese

1 cup grated raw turnip

1 cup grated raw carrot

Mayonnaise and lettuce

Coleslaw

1. Simmer frankfurters in water for 5 minutes and cool.

2. Slice frankfurters and cover with French dressing. Let stand in refrigerator for half-hour.

3. Combine green pepper and cottage cheese.

4. Combine grated turnip and carrot; moisten with mayonnaise.

5. Arrange lettuce in salad bowl. In separate lettuce cups, arrange frankfurters, cottage cheese, grated carrot, and turnip, and coleslaw. Serve with mayonnaise.

Barbecued Southern Pups

By Mary Meade, June 9, 1966. Makes 5 servings.

10 wieners

1/4 cup butter

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon chopped onion

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup chili sauce

Cornmeal pastry:

3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup lard

1. Make cornmeal pastry first. Sift together flour, cornmeal and salt. Cut in lard and add just enough water to moisten, about 3 to 4 tablespoons.

2. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 1/8 inch in thickness. Cut into five 5-inch squares.

3. Melt butter for sauce and add the dry mustard, onion, lemon juice, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and chili sauce. Simmer 15 minutes.

4. Cut wieners lengthwise, almost to the ends, but not completely through. Place two wieners diagonally on each cornmeal square. Place a tablespoon of barbecue sauce in each. Fold corners of pastry over the wieners, moistening corners and pressing together.

5. Bake on ungreased baking sheet for 12 minutes at 425 degrees.

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