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Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hot Dogs...And Other Sausages

When I was a kid growing up in Montreal we would occasionally have hot dogs at home for a meal. My mother always boiled the wieners and the brand she most often chose was Swift Premium. Once the hot dogs were cooked they were placed in buns that had a slit down the middle. Mustard and relish were the only garnishes we used.

We also used to eat La Belle Fermiere sausages sometimes at breakfast or in one of my mother’s specialties that I believe was a dish that originated in England called Toad In The Hole. It was kind of a souffle with sausages buried inside. La Belle Fermiere also made very delicious country sausages that were square in shape and had a bit of extra fat. “La Belle Fermiere, the mealtime treat, the country fresh sausage that you like to eat!”
Back in the 1950’s, every so often, our family would take the drive over to Decarie Boulevard and have curb service at Miss Montreal or The Bonfire. It was at one of these restaurants that I first discovered the Michigan Red Hot which is basically a hot dog with a not all that hot meat sauce. Being that there was 4 kids in our family hot dogs were our only choice on the menu to keep the costs down. The waitress would slide a long thin metal tray into the car and both ends of the tray were attached to the glass on the car door windows. The hot dogs came in cardboard holders with an open end.
As I grew up, I discovered “greasy” spoons” which were small restaurants with a grill. It was sometimes discussed whether the cooking oil was ever changed in these places. A hot dog cooked on a grill tasted much better to me than one that was boiled.
There were a number of Jewish delis around the neighbourhood I grew up in and I became a bit addicted to a Jewish sausage that looked like a thinner pepperoni and was called karnatzel. There were two versions, the wet or the dry. The kanatzels hung from a holder near the deli case out in the open. I guess that germs weren’t considered because the meat had been cured. You would tell whoever was behind the counter how much you wanted to spend and they would cut off a piece that fit a price. I think an arm’s length was about 35 cents back then.
In 1959 some of my family went to Europe. In Copenhagen I found a totally different way of having a hot dog. Street vendors would give you a cooked European sausage along with a bun. Instead of the yellow French’s kind of mustard and relish I was used to, the wiener was garnished with English mustard and ketchup. You would take a bight out of the wiener and then a bight out of the bun.
Danish style hot dog.
In the early 1960s I then discovered “steamies”. These kind of hot dogs could be found in areas more heavily populated by French Canadians around Montreal. Both the hot dog and the bun were steamed. They could be could be bought as cheaply as 2 for a quarter. Chopped fresh cabbage was a common garnish.
I think it was around 1966 that I heard a very interesting story about hot dogs. I was working at a place called Hughes-Owens as a store clerk and one of my co-clerks was an elderly gentleman who had been in World War 1. Yes that’s right, World War 1. One day he told me about how he used to spend weekends up in the Laurentians. One of his cottage neighbours worked for Swift Premium in Montreal and every weekend in the summer he would bring up a load of free hotdogs that everybody enjoyed around a campfire. One Friday the old vet went to pick up his friend at the meat plant to give him a lift up to the Laurentians after work. He got there a bit early and his friend gave him a tour of the plant. Apparently it almost made the old guy gag. It was the last hot dog the old guy ever ate and he spread the word around cottage country as to what the process involved. His friend continued to bring up the free hot dogs but as soon as he was out of sight they were buried. I have no idea how long this masquerade went on.
The above story didn’t dissuade me at all. I went on to knockwursts. For 35 cents you could get a grilled knockwurst on rye at Dunns’s Delicatessen in downtown Montreal. They spilt the wiener in half before putting it on the grill.
In the late 1970s I was in southern Florida and checked out Nathan’s in Miami, a kind of a home away from home for Jewish New Yorkers. I would give Nathan’s a thumbs up in the tube steak hall of fame.
In 1986 I got my first Costco membership and to this day I stop by their food court and have a hot dog there at least once a month. They are only $1.25 including a drink and you can pile all kinds of things on top of them. I used to buy kosher wieners at Costco too but at this age I don’t know what I would do with a big package of them anymore.
I checked out the J. Kwinter gourmet hot dog franchise at Oakridge Mall in Vancouver a few times. Apparently a tasty hot dog can be made without using questionable additives. Who knew?
We also had the chance to try the British version of a hot dog at an outdoor market in London, England. They prefer to call their sausages “bangers”. It sure beat the hell out of the street food we had in France.
This past summer we were in upstate Vermont or New York ( I can’t remember which state) when we spotted a roadside hot dog stand called Brigante’s. Linda was so impressed with her Michigan hot dog that we brought a package of the dried seasoning home with us. When we got back to the west coast we had some folks over for a bar-b-q and the sauce was a hit.
I don’t think that I am by any means a hot dog expert but I do have my preferences. Vienna wieners are at the top of my list. It is hard to turn down a good bratwurst smothered in fried onions. Although I am not Jewish, I have always trusted the ingredients in kosher hot dogs and I am sure that the rabbis don’t bless anything that is suspect.
These days, if you read the obituaries, you will find that a lot of old folks are lasting into their nineties. I’m sure that a lot of them have had a hot dog or two in their lives. What’s the old line? If it doesn’t kill you it just might make you stronger.
Don’t get me started on cured meats, particularly smoked meat. I love that stuff!


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