independence day food traditions
Happy 4th of July! Today is the day that families and friends get together for picnics, barbeques, cookouts, clambakes, and other types of gatherings involving food. We barbeque hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, tuna (albacore here), steaks, kabobs, tofu and a myriad of other proteins. We eat macaroni salad, coleslaw, potato salad, corn on the cob, chips, baked beans, and other sides. For sweets, we enjoy apple pie, brownies, crisps, cobblers, cookies, and watermelon. The word picnic is from the French word "pique-nique" which is a type of potluck, and the picnic is the most popular way to celebrate this national holiday.
Americans celebrate their independence through food and the foods today are as varied as we are. On the east coast, you might enjoy a clambake with lobster, clams, potatoes, and corn which is a method of cooking the colonists learned from the native Americans. When you look at the foods that are traditionally eaten on the 4th of July, you begin to notice the vast ethnic influences that have been incorporated into the menus. For example: watermelon came from Africa with the slaves, macaroni salad has Italian roots, hot dogs were influenced by Eastern Europeans as were the various types of potato salads. It’s interesting to note that potatoes come from the Americas and they had to travel to Europe and be brought back by Europeans to become the salads we know and love today.
Where would Independence Day be without fireworks? I’ll note it here that they originated with the destruction of war: cannons, guns, and bombs. Now, they are a benign and beautiful way to remember our violent beginnings and no 4th of July celebration would be the same without them. Back to food……
At present, you might celebrate the 4th of July with Greek, Mexican, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Hawaiian, or Cajun foods. It doesn’t really matter anymore what type of food that you celebrate with as long as you celebrate. When I was growing up, we barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs. Now I celebrate with whatever is in season and fresh at the time. Today, it will be an Asian inspired grilled chicken and zucchini salad with fresh cantaloupe for dessert; a simple way to honor this most important day in our country.
I will share a story from my culinary school adventures before I leave you. I was working at Alla Lanterna on the 4th of July last year, and when I came into the kitchen that morning to start work I was greeted by Chef Elide who wished me a Happy Independence Day and wanted to know if my husband was going to roast a turkey to celebrate. I looked at her sort of confused and asked her why she thought Bruce would be roasting a turkey. She said, ‘isn’t this the day Americans eat turkey and stuffing?’ I laughed and said, ‘no, that is Thanksgiving Day, not Independence Day. On this day, Americans traditionally barbeque hamburgers and hot dogs and then watch fireworks at night’. Her comment was that she would rather have turkey instead of a hamburger or a hot dog. I just nodded my head and started gutting fish. I didn’t want to comment back that I thought it strange that Italians ate hot dogs and French fries on pizza…..
No matter how strange you might think other people’s food traditions are, you should celebrate this day with your favorite foods and remember those who won independence for this country. Buon Appetitio!
My Favorite Potato Salad (serves 4-6)
(remember to be very careful when serving potato or any mayonnaise based salads as they can cause food-borne illness. Keep them out of the sun and always on ice to ensure they stay properly chilled)
This salad is Spanish in origin and is best with homemade mayonnaise.
1 lb. waxy potatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 (or more) garlic cloves, minced
2 tbs. finely chopped parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste
Splash of sherry vinegar or lemon juice
Boil the potatoes in salted water (or chicken stock for more flavor) for about 15-20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain, let cool slightly, then peel and dice. Combine the mayonnaise, garlic, vinegar or lemon juice, and parsley in a medium bowl, and add the potatoes. Gently toss and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.