4:32am

Sun April 29, 2012
Author Interviews

'Hot Dog' Meets 'Bun': Famous Food Discoveries

Originally published on Mon April 30, 2012 10:31 am

If you're watching a sports game at home, at a bar or at an arena, what better way to enjoy it than with some nachos, pretzels or hot dogs?

As a former baseball player, Josh Chetwynd knows a thing or two about stadium grub. His new book, How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat and Drink, features 75 short essays that trace the history of popular food and dispel common misconceptions.

Chetwynd tells NPR's David Greene that the book's main theme is about luck. "We often use the term 'serendipity' as sort of a catchall for luck, but I think my favorite type of luck is the unexpected inspiration, and those are situations where a person really has a completely different idea in mind and is just lucky to stumble across a great item," he says.


Interview Highlights

On how the hot dog came across the bun

"There are a number of people who have claimed to have brought together this gastronomic combination, this great marriage. The best story — and there are probably two contenders that are most likely the ones that deserve credit — but the best story comes out of St. Louis in the 1880s, and there was a street vendor who was selling [hot dogs]. At the time they weren't called hot dogs, they were called either red hots or frankfurters. And while selling them, he would give out white gloves, because when someone would buy the red hot they wouldn't want to get their hands scalded or wouldn't want to get too greasy. The problem was that a lot of the patrons were running off with the gloves, and this was really hurting his bottom line. What he ended up doing was going to a brother-in-law of his and saying, look I have this problem, and he was lucky enough that his brother-in-law was a baker and suggested the soft roll."

On the other inventor of the hot dog and bun

"The other one happened about a decade earlier in the Coney Island area. A gentleman by the name of Charles Feltman was a guy who had pushed around a cart to sell sandwiches — really pies — and he realized that he couldn't fit his pie cart with enough sandwiches, which is what people wanted, so he had to come up with something else. He knew about red hots or frankfurters, and figured that if he could get a bun so that they could be similar in the way that they could be held like sandwiches, that he could sell those. He reconfigured his cart, and he was able to start selling what we know as the hot dog."

On the invention of the graham cracker

"There was a gentleman by the name of Sylvester Graham, and he invented it because he thought it would be a deterrent for people's sex lives. He lived at a time where foods were becoming processed, and thought that part of processed food and rich foods led to what he called 'venereal excess' and led people to being a little too focused on their libido. And I can only imagine, as a guy who thought that processed foods and sugars were bad for you, what he would have thought about s'mores nowadays using his graham crackers."

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And if you're watching a hockey game, basketball game, I mean, what better way to enjoy it than with some nachos, pretzels, maybe some hot dogs. Well, Josh Chetwynd knows a thing or two about stadium grub. He is the author of "How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and Unexpected Inspirations that Shape What We Eat and Drink." And he is in the studios of Colorado Public Radio. Josh, thanks for joining us.

JOSH CHETWYND: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: I don't know if I've ever given a lot of thought to how the hot dog bun came about, but you have uncovered the story of how it came to be. Tell us the story.

CHETWYND: Well, amazingly, a lot of people have given thought to it; in fact, there are a number of people who have claimed to have brought together this gastronomic combination, this great marriage. The best story comes out of St. Louis in the 1880s. And there was a street vendor who was selling - at the time they weren't called hot dogs, they were called either red hots or frankfurters - and while selling them he would give out white gloves. Because when someone would buy the red hot, they wouldn't want get their hands scalded or wouldn't want to get too greasy. The problem was is that a lot of the patrons were running off with the gloves. This was really hurting his bottom line. What he ended up doing was going to a brother-in-law of his and saying, look, I have this problem and it was lucky enough that his brother-in-law was a baker and suggested the soft roll.

GREENE: Well, that's the story of the hot dog bun. OK, can we talk nachos?

CHETWYND: Oh, absolutely. I can always talk nachos.

GREENE: A snack for army wives? Is that really how they came about?

CHETWYND: The story of the nachos occurred in a Mexican border town just over the border from Texas. And there were some Army wives who would go over to this small Mexican town to just shop and to enjoy the ambiance. And one day they went to a local restaurant, and it was at sort of an off-hour. But the maitre d' let them in. His name was Ignacio Anaya. And Ignacio took just little pieces of what he could find inside the kitchen and threw it together, and put together what was the first plate of nachos. And what I love about the story is that even though it was of Mexican birth, the type of cheese he used was Wisconsin cheese.

GREENE: Well, do you have a favorite discovery in this book? You sure cover a lot of ground.

CHETWYND: The book is really - the main theme is about luck. And I think my favorite kind of luck is the unexpected inspiration. And those are situations where a person really has a completely different idea in mind. It's just lucky to kind of stumble across a great item. And the best story along those lines is the graham cracker. There was a gentleman by the name of Sylvester Graham and he invented it, because he thought it would be a deterrent for people's sex lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHETWYND: And thought - he lived in a time where foods were becoming processed and he thought that part of that processed food and sort of very rich foods led to people being a little too focused on their libido. And I can only imagine as a guy who thought that processed foods and sugars were bad for you, what he would have thought of s'mores nowadays using his graham crackers.

GREENE: Well, we'll never think of s'mores in the same way. Happy eating, Josh.

CHETWYND: Thank you.

GREENE: Josh Chetwynd is the author of "How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun." It's out next month. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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