I have a special admiration for cheeseburgers.
Not the kind that come in brand-labelled waxed paper, with something that might once have been an onion waved at it before serving, but the classic, homemade, grilled on the back yard barbecue, cheeseburger.
I think part of my admiration comes from the fact that even though the cheeseburger, and it’s non-dairy cousin, the hamburger, are simple foods, I can’t manage to make a decent one.
Yes, it’s true.
I can make beef stroganoff, but I can’t grill a patty of ground beef without causing it to be either raw, or dryer than the brickettes it is suspended above.
My love of the cheeseburger is tied up with memories of my grandmother hosting family picnics, in her back yard. My grandfather would fire up the gas grill, a surprisingly tiny one compared to what we have in our own yard, and my grandmother would slice tomatoes, either in wedges, which would then be marinated in oil, vinegar, and herbs, or in slices, which were amazing when sprinkled with a bit of salt.
The question and answer session would come next, involving whether corn should be boiled or done on the grill, or, more usually, in the form of the potato poll: white or sweet, wrapped in foil or not, grilled or baked in the oven (I love sweet potatoes, but with hamburgers, I’d always choose white, unwrapped, and grilled) .
Finally, whatever child was around, usually me, would be given a handful of silverware and paper napkins and told to set the table. The redwood picnic set was used as a staging area, but dining was inside, away from the mosquitoes.
Frosted glasses would be filled with my grandfather’s iced tea (a brew that I’ve approximated, but never mastered), or cranberry juice, and then, after a veritable cacaphony of conversation, of requests for medium, rare, well done, of near-catastrophes, and squeezing together of chairs, dinner would commence.
And every time, I’d be asked to specify the burger I wanted.
And every time, the adults would assume that because I was a child, and a girl, I’d want something medium, or more.
And every time, I’d choose rare.
My love of those summer dinners has morphed into my present-day love of the burger itself. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about grilled beef, melted cheese, a little mustard, onion, and a toasted Kaiser roll (in my world, lettuce does not belong on burgers, but in salad, and wimpy rolls are not welcome).
Is it a primal urge, hearkening back to humankind’s existence as hunter-gatherers?
Or is it just that the flavor combination speaks to my palate in worshipful words?
I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but it doesn’t matter.
What does matter, is how I’ll have my next burger cooked: