Along with being one of the finest writers of his, or any, generation, Ernest Hemingway was also a mad-keen angler and a serious gourmand. In a trove of personal documents released by the John F Kennedy Museum in Boston was a typed page with his preferred burger patty recipe complete with Hemingway’s handwritten notes. We roped in chef PJ Vadas of Vadas Smokehouse, South Africa’s pre-eminent BBQ joint, to make up Hemingway’s burger according to Papa’s specifications.

For the beef he used the phenomenal grass-fed, growth hormone-free beef mince from Farmer Angus (farmerangus.co.za) at Spier where Vadas Smokehouse is based. For the two discontinued Spice Island mixes PJ did some homework online and made near-identical blends.

“If I had to change anything about this recipe, it would be the red wine. You can taste it in the patty, so I would either reduce it beforehand or leave it out.”

“He was sharing a patty recipe. For the burger itself, you can add all the trimmings and build it the way you like it. I added a bread and butter pickle, tomato, and lettuce, but you could add cheese or other toppings.”

“The end result is great. Quite savoury, the spices come through well, especially with the garlic and spring onion. If you like garlic, you can up that a bit. It’s quite a spiced patty so it tastes quite meatball-ish, like a frikkadel, but it’s very nice and brings out the flavour of the beef well.”

The burger


  • 1 lb. ground lean beef
  • 2 cloves, minced garlic
  • 2 little green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
  • 2 tablespoons, capers
  • 1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage
  • 1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
  • About one-third cup dry red or white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

hemingway's burger

Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning – ½ teaspoon

This has been discontinued but you can make your own from salt, ground bay leaf, ground allspice, ground black pepper and ground cloves (1 tablespoon of each), plus onion powder, white pepper, ground nutmeg, ground mace and ground celery seed (1 teaspoon of each).

Mix all the ingredients together and store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — ½ teaspoon

This has also been discontinued, but make your own by mixing nine parts salt, nine parts sugar, and two parts MSG. Or, as PJ says, “Just use braai spice.”

The beer: CBC Lite Lager

Over the last 10 years the Cape Brewing Company (CBC) has established itself as one of South Africa’s premium craft breweries, thanks in large part to the original brewmaster, Wolfgang Koedel. The man is a perfectionist who spent decades working for Paulaner Brauerei opening breweries all over the world before settling in the Cape. So, when he turned his attention to the market trend towards light beer, it was never going to be what Monty Python said when referring to American beer: “Like making love in a canoe” (fucking close to water).

PJ Vadas’s beer of choice for the Hemingway burger and for hot summer days, this delicious all-day quaffer is light on calories (less than 100 per serving) and alcohol (3.5%), but strong on flavour.

What to listen to while feasting? Check out The Mission Issue 42 below for DJ PJ’s playlist. It’s free!

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