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Oct 5, 2004 12:43 AM

Hamburger Relish in 1970's Southern California?

  • d

In the 1970's every hamburger that my parents would buy for me in Southern California at hamburger stands always had a slightly sweet, tangy flavor that suddenly disappeared in the 1980's. What was this taste? Was it some kind of hamburger relish? I'd love to find out so I can make my hamburgers taste circa 1972.


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  1. I think it might be pickle relish? the finely diced sweet pickle relish w/ little pimentos? You might be able to get it in a good grocery store in the relish isle.

    BTW, is this the David Naimark that does forensics evals in SD?

    2 Replies
    1. re: daantaat

      Don't think this is it, sweet pickle relish is still widely available and widely used.

      Depends upon where the hamburgers were purchased. Almost all the major chains had a ubiqitous "secret sauce" that was based on some version of either Russian or Thousand Island dressing. All of them have done serious modifications to their 70s formulations.

      There was an extensive article in Nations Restaurant News last month about the turn-around in McDonald's in the last year to 18 months. A significant reason for their improvement has been the return to the "original" Big Mac sauce when they brought a retired operations specialist out of retirement. He contacted their former manufacturer (which I suspect was Ventura Foods) to see if they still had the original sauce recipe. They didn't, but an equally old-timer found the original hand-written recipe in the manufacturee's archives. Within weeks of returning the Big Mac to it's original formulation, sales began taking substantial increases. So I guess the moral of this story is to never under-estimate the power or allure of "sauce", it can make or break a product. Or don't under-estimate the taste memory of millions of baby-boomers ;-)

      So David, my first suggesetion would be to try 1,000 Island and tweak it to fit the taste you remember.

      1. re: Gayla

        come to utah. it's called fry sauce here. we're still stuck in the 70s so it may taste the same as you remember.....

    2. David, I buy Del Monte's Hamburger Relish. Tastes like So. Cal. circa '70s to me.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Gail

        Another perfect reminder is Knott's Steak relish. I think it was the lead style that is now in a similar way duplicated at The Pacific Dining Car for the 53 years I've been going there and at Monty's Steakhouse. I remember as a kid going to a hamburger place in Hollywood called Tips on Vine St. just north of Hollywood Blvd. They used the thousand island which I find best duplicated By Bob's Big Boy which you can find at almost any supermarket.

        1. re: Hugh Lipton

          Bob's Big Boy Thousand Island salad dressing you find in the grocery store wasn't generally put on their burgers in the 70's unless the diner did it at the table. The BbB hamburger relish was more of a ketchup with sweet pickle relish in it. No mayo in it.

          1. re: kc girl

            KC: Didn't say Bob's used the thousand island I said Tips used it and that Bob's was the most similar to that.

            1. re: kc girl

              Right, that's a proper relish! I love my All American doused with the tangy sweet relish.

            2. re: Hugh Lipton

              I don't know if they still make it, but the Knott's Berry Farm relish tastes like perfect "red" relish, the opposite of green "hot dog" relish.

              1. re: Hugh Lipton

                Do you know where I can get Knott's steak relish now? I live 225 miles from the Farm and can't find any place online to buy it.

                1. re: Becky
                  Becky Schnarr

                  Looking for a steak relish. Knott's used to have the best but it has been discontinued. Does anyone know of a similar kind?

                  1. re: Becky

                    Knott's Meat Relish is back on the market. Go to knott's marketplace to order on line.

                2. re: Gail

                  I agree with the recommendation of Del Monte Hamburger Relish which has more of a tomato look and taste than their Del Monte Sweet Pickle relish which is made with real sugar. Del Monte also makes a yellow mustard hot dog relish. My favorite for hamburgers is the Hamburger Relish but for hot dogs I like their sweet pickle relish. Don't know if it will remind you of the 70's sauce but they have been around a long time.

                  Del Monte Cafe
                  1642 Del Monte Blvd, Seaside, CA 93955

                3. The only hamburger stand that I went to in the 70's was Foster's Freeze and that was just for onions rings and/or a banana-nut milkshake.

                  But, I do remember a hamburger at Bob's Big Boy restaurant having the sweet and tangy flavor. They called it their "special relish" and I think that was a sweet pickle relish mixed with ketchup. It was red and had pickle bits in it. They were a pretty popular hamburger place in Southern California.

                  Anyway, you can probably buy some Bob's Big Boy hamburger relish from them and maybe see if that's it. I don't think they've changed their recipe. Maybe contact one of their restaurants or shoot them an e-mail (at ).


                  1. Hellman's used to make a "Hamburger Spread" that was heavy on the relish, with a base similar to Thousand Island dressing, but heavier on the tomato, and less mayo. Unfortunately, they quit making it quite some time ago.

                    You might try - if you contact the author through the website, you may be able to get the product you seek, or, at least, a recipe for it. Good luck!


                    1. The Hamburger Relish you seek is still being served at the Apple Pan on their original Steak Burgers. You should be able to unlock the secret after trying one. There are only two ingredients and neither one is Mayo!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Chris

                        ketchup & sweet pickle relish?

                        1. re: budlit

                          What you are looking for is Knott's Meat Relish which is sold at Knott's Berry Farm. You can also order it online at their website. Watch for an article in tomorrow's New York Times, food section. It will be all about relishes.

                          1. re: JHB1212

                            oh I'm not looking for it, I was just guessing the 2 ingredients