Hot Dogs – A link to my past

My wife doesn’t understand; hotdogs are food from the gods. Weiner and Frankfurter only hint at the history of the ‘dog. They are bigger than those Austrian and German cities that have tried to claim them. Homer told the story of men eagerly roasting sausages over a great fire, talkin’ smack about some beyatch named Helen; Nero’s cook prepared this delicacy for the emperor (no mention of fire or fiddle) and in the 7th century there was a miracle tale involving sausages with mustard. Hallelujah!

That only touches on the importance of the hotdog to the world, to my world, to me. We know how memories are shaped, the associations that are made. The smell of pine and your brain is ready to open Christmas presents; the sound of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” and it’s a ski trip in the station wagon. A taste of the mighty dog and there is simply bliss. Hotdogs equal happiness. Do they serve hotdogs at funerals? No, you get finger sandwiches, which is just creepy in its own way. Hotdogs are served at carnivals, ballparks and cookouts. Hotdogs are fun food.

Growing up I never knew if I would like what was served for dinner, except for Saturday night. Saturday night was beans and franks. Always. Like death and taxes. Consistency is important to a child and, on Saturdays, the hotdog would be nestled in a sea of B&M baked beans for me. If it was an extra special Saturday night, my mother would add New England brown bread to this menu. Sometimes my dad would take us to Hot Dog Annie’s for supper. Sometimes would always be a Wednesday when the “four for a buck” special was on. We would sit with our feast in the station wagon at the end on the main runway at Worcester Airport and watch the planes. My dad knew how to get the most out of his entertainment dollar!

There would be the summer cookouts in between playing badminton or croquet. We would have hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill. Everyone wanted a hamburger. (Actually, everyone wanted steak; hamburger was a budget concession) The dogs would burst waiting for someone to pick them. To me that burst was like spots on a banana, that’s when you know they’re ripe. I would pick the blackened skin ones, all split and bubbling underneath, stuffed it into a grilled roll, New England style, with a couple of forks full of piccalilli and a squirt of yellow mustard. Nirvana! Ooommmm.

To be clear – the blackened dog is not how I liked them originally. The change came, like so many others, with puberty. In my younger days, the dog had better not be split or blackened – boiled was best – and the roll came straight from the package so it was still squishy. And that would be topped with ketchup. That is part of what makes the hotdog the perfect food; it can be prepared in different ways to suit each stage of life, yet still retain its essential hotdog-ness.

My first job, my first step into the world of pocket money, was selling hotdogs at Holy Cross football games. These were the natural casing Kayems steamed in giant, industrial pots, The salty mist that rose each time I filled a customer’s order would transform a cold November day from miserable to magical. (“How many wid? Wid out?” -“Wid” was mustard and was almost always for the adults. “Wid out” was for the kids and puritanical ladies). And the best part? Dogs were free for those who worked the concession stands. I would eat 6 or 8 every game and all broken ones at the bottom of the pot. Since college games were on Saturdays I would still go home to beans and franks. Fall Saturdays were transcendent.

Later, I learned the subtleties of the preparation. Some places had those rollers the dogs would turn on, a kind of prayer wheel concentrating good karma into the dog. Others places kept the dogs slathered in butter on the griddle and kept them from slipping away by placing a flat scraper on top. Flo’s of Maine puts 50 at a time into their steamer and serves them with mayo, Flo’s relish and celery salt. Hot Dog Annie’s would dip them in their BBQ “sauce” after coming from the grill. Two kids that had a pushcart on Park Ave during the summer steamed their dogs in beer. (At least that’s what they told the cops when they were found to have a six-pack tucked in with the canned soda in the chilled section). An Orange Julius “Wisconson” dog, a Fenway frank, one wrapped in foil from the street vendor in every big city; these were not just vehicles for condiments, but transportation to inner peace.

And then there is the dog itself – Natural casing or skinless, pork or beef (let’s not talk turkey or chicken) and all the brands. If variety is the spice of life then let them eat hotdogs. Currently I am a fan of Pearl’s, but only for the griddle or grill. If I’m steaming or boiling give me that Kayem Old Tyme or Nathan’s. Each has its own character. My winter treat is to cook the dogs in a pot of B&M baked beans, letting them absorb the flavors; in the summer it’s grilled Pearl’s on a buttered and grilled roll with Howard’s red pepper relish and brown mustard.

This is what my wife doesn’t understand – No matter how exhausting a day it’s been, no matter how frustrating, no matter any of the myriad of things that suck the life out of you; the hotdog is a little bit of enlightenment banishing the bad by replacing it with all the good embodied in a perfect tube. And need I mention they are the perfect compliment for beer? I think she’s jealous.


3 Responses to “Hot Dogs – A link to my past”

  1. meowmie Says:

    very good…here’s the thing …your beautiful memory of HD’s and beans on saturday nite was a night of horror for me. i did love the brown bread….boiled hot dogs residing in that dish water in the pan on the stove…just very wrong! beans…no way. i can remember sitting on that bench across from my mother, with her clinched teeth,refusing to “try it”.don’t forget the glasses of room temp. milk set at each place…(don’t drink it to this day) what i do remember is finally winning and getting to have a tuna sandwich every saturday night. and the thing i remember most is that when things were all good we all sat at that kitchen table and told stories and daddy joked about folks moving to bermuda,etc. we exchanged cards on special days at this kitchen table. remember finding valentine’s leaning on your room temp. milk?it was a wonderful time of day at that kitchen table when all things were in good order and i had a tuna sandwich.

    hot dog annie’s was another matter.that was a fantastic experience! we went on wed. because of the dog deal AND the free concerts in worcester!
    i wonder if the silver grill still exists…

  2. m2smith Says:

    Here is a bit about the oft forgotten roll/bun:

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