Food Facts & Lore

A 4th of July Feast

If you’re thinking Hot Dogs at the town fair, you’re not alone. We Americans consume nearly 160 million hot dogs on the 4th of July. In fact, it out-numbers all other favorite July 4th foods. Nevertheless, the hot dog is not the main course in all states of the union when we celebrate Independence day. And as you might imagine, our forefathers enjoyed a completely different feast when they first celebrated our nation’s birthday.

Picture if you will a tableful of dignitaries in full 18th-century garb, chatting away cheerfully (and probably fanning away the heat and files) as they feasted on turtle soup and New England poached salmon with boiled potatoes and peas. For dessert: Indian pudding, of course.

The coastal areas of New England have been greatly influenced by the food traditions of the European sailors and fishermen who traveled up and down the coast in the 1800’s. Some of the delicacies they brought to the American table have a place of honor to this day. Famous among them, if you happen to live in Massachusetts, is Grilled Clams with Linguica, a smoked cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika.

The 4th of July is often dubbed “National Barbecue Day,” though the true date for this celebration is May 16. Nevertheless, the barbecue rules, but it is not limited to hot dogs and burgers. In North Carolina, for example, the Pig Roast is a favorite variation. Moving inland, you might leave room on your plate for the renowned Memphis, Tennessee ribs. They are said to be generously doused with barbecue sauce before, during and after cooking, thank you very much. And speaking of barbecue sauce, it is the centerpiece in Kansas too.

Of course, this short journey around the 4th of July table would not be all American without apple pie. We must give thanks to our European ancestors for this delicacy as well, for only one small and rather bitter apple could be found on these soils. Our European forefathers brought many varieties to our shores, along with the recipe for apple pie.

Red, white and blue plates and napkins and flags highlight the significance of the day. Interestingly, it was mostly greenery that made up the centerpiece and decorations when early Americans celebrated our Independence. This may have been inspired by George Washington’s soldiers’ habit of attaching greenery to their hats.

There is yet another aspect of the 4th of July celebration that makes our times unique, and that is the custom of honoring the day in small family and friends gatherings in addition to, and sometime instead of the traditional town gatherings of past eras. This surely adds a unique individual touch to the menu.