Recently we participated in a recipe contest — “Let’s Sing a Song to Tuna” — by Retro Ruth of The Mid-Century Menu. She asked for reader submissions of retro recipes using tuna in some way, and I eagerly scoured my bookmarks for candidates. The result? I managed to see how Tuna Upside Down Bake would turn out, without having to eat it myself. (Spoiler alert: it’s got Veg-All, so you know it’s gonna be bad…)
I was actually one of four finalists for the Worst Tuna Dish, and in addition to the dubious honor of knowing I have lots of dubious food bookmarked in my recipe folder, I won a cool vintage cookbook! Yay! (More dubious food!)
365 Ways to Cook Hamburger: Easy, economical, and excitingly different recipes for 1 to 100 people.
The author preparing appetizing meat balls in his San Fernando Valley kitchen.
According to the book jacket, “DOYNE NICKERSON has been an actor, a hydroponic gardener, an advertising writer, a printer, and — during the Depression — a young man who ate hamburger tree times a day and learned to prepare it in dozens of different ways. He has taken an active interest in cooking since he was ten and for years has made a hobby of collecting hamburger recipes and testing them. Now owner-manager of Silk Screen and Lithography, Inc. in Los Angeles, Mr. Nickerson cooks hamburgers for his wife and young son.” According to his obituary, Doyne Nickerson was born in 1916 and passed away in 1980, so his hamburger recipe collection ranges widely from traditional early-century to slightly more intriguing mid-century concoctions.
Buzz took charge of choosing and cooking the first recipe from this fun new treasure trove of hamburgery goodness, and he decided “Hamburger and Wheat Germ Peppers” sounded super.
HAMBURGER AND WHEAT GERM PEPPERS
In 1/4 cup bacon drippings, sauté
1 lb hamburger
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1-1/2 cups drained cooked tomatoes
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp chili powder
Slice 3 large green peppers in half lengthwise. Parboil for 5 minutes, drain, and fill with meat mixture. Bake in greased baking dish at 400° for 30 minutes. Serves 6.
Did you know that wheat germ is really, really good for you? I didn’t.
Wheat germ is a concentrated source of several essential nutrients including Vitamin E, folate (folic acid), phosphorus, thiamin, zinc and magnesium, as well as essential fatty acids and fatty alcohols. It is a good source of fiber. [Wikipedia]
Of course, all those healthy, essential nutrients and fatty acids are probably counteracted by the 1/4 cup of bacon drippings. (We get most of our pork products from a local hog farmer, who raises traditional breeds. His sausage is delicious, the bacon less so. The rashers are about 85% lard, which is fine for a recipe like this but not very appetizing at breakfast. Moreover, the little bits of muscle that do lie along the edge are surprisingly dry when they’ve been cooked up. It’s actually a testament to modern breeding techniques that conventional bacon has such a well-balanced meat-to-fat ratio.)
The onions and celery sizzled up nicely. It’s impressive how much rendered fat some vegetables will absorb in a frying pan. Once the onions were soft, the ground beef went in. The beef was grass-fed, and hence not particularly high in fat itself, but with all that bacon grease, using the cheap, 30% fat hamburger that the cookbook may have intended would probably have been lipid overkill.
Atop the fried meat (which included the diced remains of the meaty part of the bacon, to keep those bits from going to waste) went crushed tomatoes, bread crumbs, wheat germ, salt, and spices. It made kind of a pretty mosaic, and a dynamic one, since the warming tomatoes slowly turned the salt orange.
Meanwhile, the peppers were split.
Our four-year-old, who was very anxious to help, took on the job of dropping the pepper halves into boiling water. Over the last few months, he’s decided that helping Mommy and Daddy cook is one of his absolute favorite activities.
After five minutes, the peppers came out, blanched and slightly floppy. They seemed a lot less appetizing like this than when they were raw, although the pieces ultimately turned out to just about the perfect texture.
There was a lot of filling, of which only so much could actually be crammed into the pepper halves. The rest just ended up mounded on top. The texture of the filling seemed to be completely dominated by the bread crumbs and wheat germ. It was a thick paste, made red by the tomatoes, with bits of meat and vegetable embedded in it.
Into the oven they went (for a surprisingly long time—thirty minutes when all the ingredients were already cooked and hot). Aside for a tiny bit of drying and darkening, the didn’t seemed to have changed much when they came out.
The taste was good but not great. It’s basically a big meatball in a vegetable cup, and the two together provide a good flavor and texture contrast. Seasoning only with chili powder ends up giving it a kick, but it’s very one dimensional. We definitely felt we could have devised a better seasoning scheme ourselves. The wheat germ and breadcrumbs end up giving it a sort of sticky-chewy texture, which gets weird about halfway through the big meatblob. Without the textural variety provided by the pepper, it could have been difficult to finish.
I also would have named it something more appealing!