Wake up, America’s favorite pastime! It’s your opening day!
At six cities across the country the crack of the bat will finally echo through the stadium and baseball season will begin (the remainder of the teams will play tomorrow). That means stadium snacks! These days those snacks range from Gilroy garlic fries in San Francisco to grilled salmon sandwiches in Seattle to BBQ in Baltimore. But it’s the originals — the old-standbys — that are true baseball food: peanuts, Cracker Jack, and hot dogs.
Crackerjack Developed in 1893 by a couple of brothers, Louis and Frederick Rueckheim, Cracker Jack was made in an attempt to give popcorn a twist. That twist came in the form of adding molasses and peanuts. A few years later, the brothers developed a special formula that would keep the clumps from sticking together (they added oil, but shhh, it’s still regarded as a trade secret). After a happy customer proclaimed the snack to be “crackerjack” in the slang of the time, the Rueckheims trademarked the term and a product was born. The question of which comes first, the Cracker Jack or the association between Cracker Jack and baseball, can be easily answered. Take Me Out to the Ball Game was released in 1908 as a simple song about baseball, but in reality it was the best (free) advertising that Cracker Jack could ever receive. Its popularity remains today. The sweet, crunchy treat-in-a-box-that’s-now-in-a-bag is sold at all 30 Major League ballparks.
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The other player in that famous song, peanuts, has been around much longer than the game. It was first introduced to Europe by Spanish conquistadors who brought back plants from South America. In the 1700s, the plants were returned back across the Atlantic by slave traders who used the legumes as cheap, sea-faring food. In the 1800s, a few farms in the United States South began to farm peanuts. But their popularity was not fully realized until the Civil War, when vendors began selling freshly roasted peanuts on the street and at events due to peanuts’ recognition as a tasty snack among soldiers. These events included, of course, baseball.
A short history of peanuts is not complete without mention of George Washington Carver. In the 1900s, the botanist’s work with the plant led to not just the development of peanut butter but also the nationwide spread of peanut cultivation, which meant more peanuts in more ballparks.
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Hot DogsNo baseball game is authentic without the enticing lilt of vendors in the background shouting, “Hot dogs!” Though sausages have existed for many, many, many years (in 64 A.D., Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar’s cook stuffed pig intestines with ground meat), the hot dog as we know it is a more recent invention. The difference between a hot dog and a sausage can be easily identified on sight by the youngest of baseball fans, but the true difference is that one has a bun and one does not (unless it’s an Italian sausage, in which case, sometimes, it does. But for the sake of a historical discussion let’s ignore that).
There are two stories that tell of the introduction of the bun. One person who might deserve recognition for introducing the bun is the wife of Antonoine Feuchtwanger, a sausage vendor who used to lendhis customers white gloves with their food to prevent their hands from burning. But there was a flaw in his thinking. Some of the customers would walk away with the gloves. Around 1883, Feuchtwanger’s wife came up with a solution. She suggested fitting the sausages into bread rolls. The meat-filled bread was dubbed “red hots.”
Others say the bun came from Charles Feltman, a German butcher. In 1867, he began selling sausages on rolls out of a wagon along Coney Island’s sand dunes. After a few years, his business expanded from one cart to a large restaurant complete with a beer garden and multiple hot dog stands. The restaurant was later made obsolete when Nathan Handwerker (a former bread slicer at Feltman’s) opened his own stand in 1918, and charged half of what Feltman charged. Thus Nathan’s was born.
Hot dogs were brought to baseball as early as 1893, when Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant and owner of the St. Louis Browns, brought them to the park. There is also the tale of April 1900, when concessionaire Harry Stevens was failing to sell his cold wares of ice cream and soft drinks at New York’s Polo Grounds. He thought that fans of the New York Giants (the team that now is located in San Francisco) would rather eat something hot, so he sent out for sausages, which he sold in warm buns. He advertised the combo as “red hot dachshund sausages” — not so catchy, but the idea was there.
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So raise you peanuts and salute your hot dogs (or red hots, for the Feuchtwanger traditionalists) to America’s favorite pastime! And tell us your favorite baseball stadium snack!