The story behind the nursery rhyme
Portrait of Sarah Josepha Buell Hale by James Reid Lambdin, circa 1831
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879) was a poet, novelist, and magazine editor who published more than 40 books in her lifetime.
She, more than anyone, was responsible for making the New England celebration of Thanksgiving a national holiday by campaigning for it for almost two decades and by writing letters to five presidents. Finally, her letter to President Lincoln is credited for convincing him to support the concept as a unifying event after the Civil War.
The Sarah Josepha Hale Award is one of the nation's oldest and most distinguished literary awards. It has gone to such luminaries as Robert Frost, John Hersey, Ogden Nash, John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Miller, Ellen Goodman, and Ken Burns.
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Mary had a little lamb,
And everywhere that Mary went,
It followed her to school one day,
It made the children laugh and play,
And so the teacher turned it out,
And waited patiently about,
"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know."
Mary's Little Lamburgers
OK, my bias must come out: If cooked properly I like lamb better than beef. Now I know a lot of you are questioning my sanity, but that's probably because you've never had good lamb cooked properly. It seems lamb is like liver or anchovies. Some people just hate them and it's usually because of a traumatic childhood experience.
If you're willing to take a chance, please please try my Lamb Loin Chops in Sheep Dip. That will show you the heights to which it can rise. But if you don't want to spend that kind of money on an experiment (loin chops are expensive), here's a quick and dirty way to see how good lamb can be. Next time you have a jones for a burger, make it a lamburger. Most groceries carry ground lamb. Often in preformed patties. Preparing these burgers is a snap and you might not go back to beef burgers.
A key is the sauce. I know you want to put ketchup on your burgers, but lamb has been a staple of the Greek diet for centuries, and they love it with a white sauce from yogurt called tzatsiki sauce. Tzatsiki is also served on gyros, which is made from ground lamb and other meats. The sauce below, developed by my wife, is not a classic tzatsiki, but it's close. You'll be surprised at how well it works on lamburgers. We serve them with a big green salad and use the sauce as a salad dressing too. I've even been known to pack the salad into a pita and eat it that way.
Yield. 4 burgers
Preparation time. Making the sauce takes 15 minutes, grilling the burgers takes 10 minutes.
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 pinch table salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dill, dried or fresh
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped small
1 mint leaves chopped small
1/2 teaspoon honey
1.5 pounds of ground lamb
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 pita pockets
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1) Prepare your grill for hot direct heat. Charcoal is best because we want to form a crust and many gas grills do not generate enough heat. If your gas grill has a sear burner or infrared burner, this is what it is for. They can be cooked easily on a hibachi.
2) Prepare the sauce by stirring together all the ingredients in a bowl and store in the fridge. You can do this the night before and that will help pull flavor out of the herbs.
3) For the meat into patties about 6 ounces each about 1/2" thick and shaped like a football so they will fit neatly into pita halves. Coat them with the oil, and then with the spices. That may seem like a lot of spices, but we want to form a nice crust.
4) Put the burgers on the grill, close the lid, and stand there. Sing Mary Had a Little Lamb four times. After about four minutes, check the underside. You want it dark, but not black. If your grill is not hot enough to darken it, then turn it anyway. Toss the pitas on the grill for 30-60 seconds on each side, enough to warm them. Cook the burger until it hits 160°F, safe temp.
5) Serve the burgers by cutting the pitas in half. Press the sides gently to pop open the posket. Spoon about a tablespoon of sauce in, put some tomato in, squeeze the burger in on top, and slater more sauce on the burger. Make sure everyone has plenty of napkins.
This recipe revised 6/12/2009
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