As a nation of immigrants, America’s culture has been influenced by other cultures from all across the globe. Still, there are a few cultural icons that are utterly American, born and breed right here in the United States. Apple pie, football and hamburgers are all completely American. Or, are they? Let’s take a look back at the origins of these seemingly “American” traditions.
On the surface, it seems that the invention of America’s favorite fast food has its roots in two different American cities; Seymour, Wis. and Akron, Ohio. In the late 1800s, both Charles Nagreen of Wisconsin and Frank Menches of Ohio claimed that they invented the burger at separate town fairs in an effort to give customers a convenient and portable meal. However, the idea of a ground beef patty wasn’t entirely their own.
The creation of the hamburg steak is credited to the Genghis Khan’s fearsome cavalry, the Golden Horde. Riding non-stop for days, the horsemen required food that could be eaten with one hand. They assembled scraps of leftover meat into patties, which they then stuck underneath their saddles. When it came time to eat, the meat was tender, having been softened by the pressure between the saddle and the horse. These patties came to America with the German immigrants on the German Hamburg-Amerika boats. Patties formed from salted scraps of meat and mixed with breadcrumbs and various spices were the perfect food for the voyage; they had the necessary nutrients and a long shelf life. Although Nagreen and Menches may have been the first to give the hamburger its bun, it’s clear that the patty’s origins belong to Europe.
Football, arguably America’s favorite sport, is deeply ingrained into our nation’s culture. However, American football has its roots in rugby, a traditional English sport. Rugby was created in 1823 at the Rugby’s Boys’ School in England during a game of schoolyard football — what would become known to Americans as soccer.
Legend has it that a student named William Web Ellis disregarded the rules by picking up the ball and running it down the pitch. At that time, football was played in such a way that players could pass the ball with their hands, as well as kick it. Ellis’ modification of the rules stuck, and rugby was born. When the sport came overseas, its rules changed to make it more interesting for fans and safer for players; it eventually evolved into the football game we see today.
Looking even further back, football could have originally come from the ancient Greek game of harpastum, a sport in which an unlimited number of players attempt to move a ball across a goal line by kicking, throwing or running with it.
“As American as apple pie” isn’t exactly the case for this fruity desert. The tradition of making pies extends back to the ancient Greeks, who wrapped meat in dough to contain the natural juices during cooking. Additionally, these outer pastry shells helped to keep the meat inside fresher for longer periods of time. When the Romans took over around 200 B.C., they adopted and evolved the Greek recipe for meat pies to create pies with fish and shellfish.
Sweet fruit pies, however, did not appear until around 1380 A.D. in England. The first recorded use of apples in pies can be found in a 1390 cookbook entitled “The Forme of Cury.” Although it’s clear that apple pie does have English origins, it’s not the American institution that many people believe it to be.