Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth Foods

It was and continues to be a surprise to me, to think that not everyone has the same food in mind for the Fourth of July.

For other holidays, it seems, we tend to get the same stuff. Turkey on Thanksgiving. You know what I mean.

To celebrate America’s birthday, the party food truly does vary from one region to another and differs with one’s ethnicity. But the basics are: You’re (generally) having an outdoor dining experience in the middle of summer, in some of the hottest weather of the year, so you tend to cook outdoors. You also tend to take advantage of all the farm-fresh produce that’s starting to become available. Beyond that, what does your family history bring to it? And your region? And what is good ol’ “American” food to you?

With my family, we have generally opted for the simple-to-grill hamburgers and/or hot dogs, with all the fixin’s to your heart’s content (BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, relish, tomatoes, pickles, onions, lettuce); potato salad (in my clan, this is often German potato salad); corn on the cob; baked beans; potato chips; a Jell-O salad; melon; homemade ice cream with blueberries and strawberries. Or anything with fresh peaches.

Sue’s family, in northern Ohio, often did the hamburger-and-hot dog thing, or—and this blew my mind—fried perch and/or walleye. Fried fish! And then, coleslaw, potato salad (the mustard kind), baked beans, potato chips, watermelon, homemade ice cream, fruit pie or cake.

Other folks grill steaks or ribs or barbecued pork steak. In the south, of course, it’s barbecue. But then also, fried chicken does it for a lot of people, too.

On the coasts, I see from Gourmet magazine, they have lobster sandwiches. Ooh-la-la.

And then there was that summer in San Francisco when I ate at a Chinese restaurant, which was busy with lots of Chinese American customers. . . . Or the year some Mexican-immigrant friends invited us over for a glorious fiesta with a huge pot of homemade chicken mole, fresh tortillas, and margaritas and sangria to make everyone happy.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that the Fourth of July, the quintessential “American” holiday, varies from region to region and from one ethnic root to the next. The coolest thing about this “melting pot” of ours is that the constituent elements (German, African, Mexican, Chinese, Norwegian, English, Irish, Korean . . .) stubbornly and gloriously persist across the generations, preserving the diversity despite our unity as citizens of the United States, the greatest country in the world.


Stephen said...

There are many staples of food for the Fourth and potato chips are obvious. When looking for good ones, or to just get information such as the history of potato chips, check out

Julie said...

Stephen, it's funny that potato chips are one of my least favorite foods--although I am partial to Ballreich's, out of Tiffin, Ohio. I wrote a post singing their praises back in early May:

And I really enjoyed the book "Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip)," by Dirk Burhans, published by Univ. of Wisconsin Press, as well as "The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World," by Larry Zuckerman, published by North Point Press. Both are highly recommended.