Happy Independence Day! Summer has truly arrived with the celebration of our nation’s independence. Everyone looks forward to picnics, parties, backyard barbeques and parades. When I was growing up in Southern California, my family would celebrate the day with a trip to Mission Bay on our boat. My father purchased a 23-foot motorboat when I was about 12 years-old and we would take it out in Mission and San Diego Bay on weekends and holidays. We would cruise around the bay for a few hours, water ski and then haul out for the BBQ in the park. Mission Bay had a very large picnic area with tables and BBQ’s dotted all over. You had to get there early to get your spot on the 4th of July, because the fireworks would be set off over the bay (near SeaWorld) later that night and the park would get crowded.
Our celebration feasts were the usual American fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato or macaroni salad, chips, beer, soda and of course, corn on the cob. My father was a corn-on-the cob junkie and we ate it as a snack in our house after dinner with lots of butter and salt. No BBQ with Big Al was ever without corn-on-the-cob! As it got dark, we would put away the picnic and settle in for the fireworks. My brothers and I were always excited to see the fireworks show. It was spectacular and seemed to go on for hours. Once the show was over, we would pack up and drive home sunburned, wind blown, and happy.
I celebrated a little differently after I moved to San Francisco. Sometimes it would be by going to a concert, or a street fair, or away for the holiday or by going to Crissy Field to hang out and wait for the fireworks over the Golden Gate Bridge. And after moving here to the Oregon Coast, the celebration continued with different foods, different friends and fireworks over Yaquina Bay. My most favorite recent memory of the 4th of July was when I was in Italy in 2010. I was working at Alla Lanterna completing my culinary school internship. I was in the kitchen that morning doing my usual job of prepping fish (gutting anchovies) with the chef & other cooks, when Chef Elide said to me in English: ‘Happy 4th of July, Patrizia’. I thanked her and the other cooks asked what Americans ate on the 4th of July to which Chef Elide promptly answered (this time in Italian): “Americans eat turkey on this day.’ I started laughing and said, “no, that’s on Thanksgiving in November. Americans eat hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, salads, watermelon and corn-on-the-cob to celebrate the 4th of July”. That made them laugh as the only hot dogs the Italians eat are on top of pizza (I’m not joking), and hamburgers are just as foreign. Their idea of BBQ is a spit-roasted pig dripping with fat and stuffed with herbs and its own entrails!
So, I was asked to explain the tradition of food on the 4th of July to my Chef & cooks. They didn’t care about the history of the event; no, they wanted to know why Americans ate what they ate and where did the tradition come from. I really didn’t have a historical answer for them; I just said (as they often said to me when I asked such a question) that it’s just what we do. It’s a holiday to celebrate with family and friends outside, because it’s summer, and the foods that are chosen are easily transportable. I told them about my experiences growing up with our boat, barbequing and watching the fireworks afterwards.
After I was finished with my explanation (which took a while in my Neanderthal Italian), Chef Elide asked me if I wanted a hot dog to celebrate as she knew where she could get some. I thanked her and said “no, I don’t eat hot dogs anymore, but I would sure love some fritto misto (fried fish) instead.” I got a laugh out of her and an order to Andrea, the fry cook, to make me fritto misto for lunch. I wasn’t in my own country, but I had a great celebration that day anyway as I was with my new family and friends and I celebrated with food that I love…..what better way to commemorate a holiday?
I hope you do the same on this day as you honor our nation’s independence with family, friends and good food! Buon Appetito!