As a child, I was fed Hebrew National , all-beef kosher hot dogs. They showed up at barbecues and also in green split pea soup. Occasionally they were served with baked beans. I was never especially fond of them though I did not dislike them either. They were just there.
What I remember most vividly is my grandmother describing how hot dogs were made from the discarded tidbits of meat; those that were not intended for more noble purposes such as roasts, meat loaves or stews. Although she still served them to us, she certainly let me know that they weren't healthy. Hence my childhood image of hot dogs made out of ground tongues, ears and offal, lingers on, despite the fact that offal in other guises is quite fine.
I eventually became old enough and concerned enough about what I was eating to actually read the labels on the hot dog packages and discovered that grandma was right. Hot dogs are certainly not the healthiest food to eat. Not only were they made of ground tidbits but they also contained all manner of unhealthy additives. So since I didn't have a weakness for them, they never became a staple of my diet. I will, nonetheless, admit to eating the occasional hot dog for old time's sake and I have also actually delighted in the Niman Ranch hot dogs served at Westville.
So my life went on and hot dogs did not register very high on my food radar. Then Izzy was born and I started to think about the things I would feed him. It was clear that I would not allow him to be one of those, "my child will only eat hot dogs and cheez whiz" sorts. However, it never occurred to me that he might simply become an occasional hot dog eater. Instead I thought, " I don't buy hot dogs, so he won't eat them." I failed to consider a couple of important factors that could easily shape a boy's tastes.
1. His dad is the occasional hot dog eater and, since we bought a grill, started to request them. 2. Many of his peers eat hot dogs.
I had to admit that it would only be a matter of time before he made the great hot dog discovery. Adding to my hot dog woes was the fact that they are a choking hazard for kids under age four (if not cut up into sufficiently small pieces).
So what was I supposed to do? I decided to face my hot dog fears head on. I would find deliciously, healthy organic hot dogs and we could eat them at home. I called them "wienies" to start with because I just couldn't deal with the hot dog moniker.
I began this foray into the world of hot dogs, last summer after Izzy had turned three. I started by looking for Niman Ranch hot dogs but was unsuccessful so instead I opted for a brand I found at Whole Foods which I can no longer recollect. They may have been Applegate Farms organic hot dogs, the old version. They were "Eh", I said, though Izzy didn't seem to mind them.
I vowed to keep on searching for better. Meanwhile we ate too much grilled kielbasa (in the hot dog family, right?) which are certainly made with all manner of snouts, fat, nitrates and such but are somehow (in my mind) a better food since they are made locally.
Later on in the summer I tried Applegate Farms Great Organic Hot Dogs..now these I could live with. We all deemed them tasty and for me they were a decidedly acceptable foodstuff. Yet hot dog tastings were far from over. Fast forward to tonight.
Izzy noted an old package of wienies at the bottom of the freezer, left over from a barbecue last summer. He said he wanted them for dinner. I said we needed to find some better ones. Those were Hebrew National and I thought we could do better. So today I went to the Hawthorne Valley Farms stand at the Union Square Green market. I love them for their dairy products, especially the yogurts, quark and Bianca cheese but had never tried the meat. I knew that they carried organic, biodynamic hot dogs because last summer they were always sold out when I tried to purchase them. Today I managed to buy a bag of them..$9.10 for 8 hot dogs..seemed pricey but worth it if they were good. I brought the prize home and proudly boiled them up. Izzy asked for mashed potatoes to go with so we made those first.
Though sorely lacking for greens, I was still excited to serve up our meat and potatoes meal; hot dogs on squishy Pepperidge Farm buns with a side of mashed potatoes. Well I am sorry to report that we were both horribly disappointed. These hot dogs were not what I had imagined. The gray-brown color was the first unappealing aspect and the insipid flavor was the clincher. Izzy barely ate a a quarter of his and I tried valiantly to finish mine. I don't understand how this could be. I had read that they were wonderful and they consistently sell out. Did I buy a bad batch? Should they be grilled instead of boiled?
I will not give up. I read a great article in the New York Times about this and will seek some of the brands mentioned. Meanwhile I will continue to buy the Applegate Farms Best Organic Hot Dogs and find a source for the Niman Ranch ones. And I suppose that I will also resign myself to the fact that, while I am not watching (and even when I am) Izzy may consume a mediocre hot dog.