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Calendar >  The Story Behind the All-American Baseball Food Traditions

The Story Behind the All-American Baseball Food Traditions

By   /  August 14, 2020  /  1 Comment


TR Robertson — Baseball has returned, sort of, amid rather bizarre circumstances. Fans attending the games have been replaced by piped in crowd noise and cut-outs placed in the seats. Players try to stay somewhat apart as they give out elbow bumps and air fives while periodically wearing their face masks. It’s strange, but at least live baseball games makes many of us think a little smattering of something normal is creeping back in, as we also await seeing what the upcoming NFL season will look like, watch the PGA with no fans lining the fairways and watch the NBA playing games inside of their bubble. Who could have possibly imagined this is the sports world we would be watching and living in?

Even with this, you can still partake in some of the time-honored traditions of one particular sport, that being food and snacks associated with baseball. So, you can’t go to the games, you can still make hot dogs, still have some Cracker Jacks or salted peanuts in their shells, still make yourself some nachos, even have cotton candy while you watch the games on T.V. All things baseball are available if you know where to purchase them. But before looking at where to get the food items and snacks, let’s look at why these foods became associated with baseball and a little history behind the food and snacks.

Hot dogs and baseball are a perfect match.

Hot Dogs – The idea of stuffing meat into some sort of casing goes all the way back to 65 A.D. and Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar, whose cook is said to have stuffed ground meat into a stuffed pig intestine. It is said the city of Frankfurt developed the frankfurter”, spiced and smoked sausage in a curved shape. The “wiener” originated in Vienna in 1805, a sausage made of pork and beef. Lots of stories surround how this “wiener” came to be known as the hot dog. One story says they were first called Dachshund sausages. Supposedly, Antonoine Feuchtwander, a St. Louis food peddler is said to have sold piping hot sausages, offering these at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and even offered gloves for his patrons to wear so they wouldn’t burn their fingers The problem was, people didn’t always return the gloves, so he was losing money. Around 1883, his wife, or brother-in-law, suggested putting the piping hot sausages in soft rolls. He began to call the combo “red hots”.

Another story says Charles Feltman, a German butcher, began selling hot sausages on rolls out of his wagon, in 1867, up and down the sand dunes of Coney Island. From the pushcart, he opened a restaurant, a beer garden and seating. His bread slicer, Nathan Handwerker, is said to have left Feltman and opened his own stand, in 1916. Nathan would sell the sausages for less than Feltman. Today, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs are sold in more than 20,000 food service and retail outlets and on July 4th, beginning in 1916, they have sponsored an annual hot dog eating contest.

As far as hot dogs being sold at baseball games, this took a little longer. At the first baseball games, in the late 1800’s, ham and cheese sandwiches, along with lemonade and ice cream, were considered baseball fare. Harry M. Stevens, supposedly in the early 1900’s, came up with the idea of selling the quick to make and distribute hot dog at the ball parks. Another tale says the name “hot dog” comes from food vendors who sold hot dogs from “dog wagons” to college students in the 1890’s.

Another argument surfaces when you begin to suggest what condiments should be on the hot dog. For me it’s mustard and onions with a hint of relish. For others its ketchup and the further east you go the hot dog takes on a gourmet life of its own with the addition of chili or pickles or cheese or tomatoes or all of these and the type of bun is also another story. Whatever way you like your hot dog, a good hot dog and a baseball game is a filling treat.

Bags of salted peanuts in shells are popular at ball games.

Peanuts – Peanuts are an even more classic baseball snack. During the Civil War, soldiers made boiled peanuts as a food source to carry in their knapsacks. After the war, street vendors, selling freshly roasted peanuts, continued to make the cheap snack and as baseball began to develop in the late 1800’s, peanuts would be an inexpensive snack to take into the stands during the games. Traveling circuses also offered roasted peanuts sold by hawkers in the stands. The “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” song, that appeared in 1908, continued the popularity of peanuts and Cracker Jacks, with the line, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks”. In the early 1900’s, George Washington Carver, a renowned botanist who was the son of a slave, began researching peanuts. His work led to the widespread peanut cultivation, earning him the reputation of the “Father of the American Peanut Industry”. There is nothing better than getting a bag of roasted, salted peanuts, shelling them, and popping the salty treat into your mouth during a game, along with a cool beer.

Cracker Jacks – Popping corn had existed for thousands of years, first done by Native Americans. By 1893, popcorn makers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim wanted to experiment with the popped kernels. The two brothers first added molasses and peanuts into the mix, liked what they had developed and first offered the sweet treat at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. They later developed a way to get keep the ingredients from sticking together. This remains a trade secret to this day. The story says the brothers heard someone, who was eating the sticky product, say this was “crackerjack”, a slang term for the day meaning “awesome”. The Rueckheim’s trademarked the expression and their product would appear in the unforgettable song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” along with peanuts.

Some other traditional drink and food items that would always appear at baseball games are beer, nachos, hot pretzels, cotton candy, sunflower seeds, and Coca-Cola.

Nachos – Nachos didn’t appear at ballpark concession stands until 1976 when Frank Liberto sold them at a Texas Rangers game. The first year, nachos outsold popcorn and Cracker Jacks at the stadium.

Hot Pretzels – Philadelphia lays claim to offering the first American soft pretzels with mustard. Today they are found at almost every ballpark.

Cotton Candy – This was called “fairy floss” at the 1904 World’s Fair. As peanuts and Cracker Jacks began to appear at baseball games, it was only a matter of time before vendors selling the colored sticky snack appeared. The Texas Rangers once sold a “Sweet Spot Cotton Candy Dog”, a hot dog topped with cotton candy-infused mustard, which cost $10.00.

Sunflower Seeds – Sunflower Seeds began to appear in the 1960’s, made popular by players like Reggie Jackson. As these appeared at the baseball stadiums, the maintenance crews found cleaning up the left-over husks was a major problem. In 1995, Baseball Athletic Trainers said players were experiencing stressed pinky fingers as they reached in their pockets with three fingers to grab the seeds.

Beer – St. Louis Browns owner, Chris Von der Ahe, in 1883, in a league called the American Association, offered cheap baseball games with readily available beer in the stands, a first for any of the teams. Beer has been a part of baseball ever since, even as a team logo with the additional of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Coca-Cola – During the late 1890’s, Coca-Cola was only available at soda fountains. Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead began to use their own bottles to take soda to the local baseball game. They approached Coca-Cola about having bottles of soda at the games and they were granted the rights to bottle and sell the coke at ball parks. Coke is now a nationwide soda concession stand seller at ball parks.

Ice Cream – A fairly new food item at the ballpark, ice cream appeared in small novelty team helmets in the 1970’s.

These are but a few of the food items offered at ballparks. Since fans are not allowed in ballparks at this time, you can still enjoy a game on T.V. and make most of these items yourself or purchase them in various stores. I have seen Cracker Jacks in a number of stores. I saw cotton candy at Smart and Final as well as sunflower seeds. Nathans hot dogs and other brands are sold everywhere, and I purchased a bag of salted peanuts in shells at Wal Mart not long ago. Look and you will find, even if it is online.

Coming up, do not miss the trivia about some of the baseball traditions and food items.

Stay Safe and Play Ball!


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  • Published: 7 months ago on August 14, 2020
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  • Last Modified: August 14, 2020 @ 12:57 am
  • Filed Under: Local

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  1. Humberto says:

    PERMANENT EXHIBIT IT S OUR GAME: BASEBALL A Huge vault of American culture in Elliott Museum s baseball collection Everyone has a baseball story. Sometimes sharing their stories have brought tears to their eyes, says Frank Spera of his experiences in the Museum s Baseball Gallery exhibit titled It s Our Game. The gallery includes signed baseball cards, baseballs, bats, and other memorabilia. But it comes alive when the Museum s docents are there to share stories with visitors. Frank Spera is now available to present stories that are in his book cardboard time capsules (available in the Elliott Museum Store) gleaned from his research and experiences while serving as a volunteer docent at the Elliott Museum. The Elliott Museum has a comprehensive signed collection of baseball-related items including autographed baseball cards, baseballs, bats, and other artifacts. The collection of autographed baseballs now numbers more than 250. The collection sports signatures by players from the Major Leagues, the Negro Leagues, and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Among the most famous players represented are: Ray Dandridge, the Negro League; Hank Aaron, the Negro and Major Leagues; June Peppas (AAGPBL); and Jackie Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ted Williams, Derek Jeter, Bob Feller, Ralph Kiner, and Babe Ruth of the Major Leagues. All permanent exhibits are included with Elliott Museum Regular Admission

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