Tuesday, July 2, 2013

First Fourth of July Meals: Finest Ingredients, Not Hot Dogs or Other Chemical-Laced Food

The first Fourth of July celebration occurred on July 4, 1777 at the City Tavern in Philadelphia, when members of the Continental Congress gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  

The City Tavern website proclaims:
"The Tavern was built 'for the convenience and credit of the city' by a group of eminent Philadelphians who felt that their hometown deserved a fine tavern which reflected its status as the largest, most cosmopolitan city in British North America... "
Because leaders of our fledgling nation were dining at one of Philadelphia's best public houses, the first meal marking the birth of the United States was elaborate and of the finest ingredients.  
"Current tavern chef Walter Staib says the menu likely was based on the recipes of the British culinary authority Hannah Glasse,whose book 'The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy' dictates not only every dish of the three-course dinner, but where it should be placed on the table.
"Glasse’s July menu suggests the signers of the Declaration would have supped on roast turkey and fricasseed rabbit, pigeon, crayfish and lobsters. There would have been tongue and turnips and lamb testicles. And for dessert, apricot tarts and roasted apples, plums, jellies and custards.
"Because Philadelphia was a major port, the meal likely also would have included delicacies from abroad, Staib says. Limes from the West Indies were used for lime curd. Exotic fruit such as mangoes, pineapples and coconuts might have been available, as well as spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and vanilla. Plus, there was local seafood, such as salmon, sturgeon and oysters." (Source - The Japan Times News)
The former longtime owner of Cambridge, Massachusetts mainstay The Fishmonger, had her own historic take Fourth of July fare:
"Every year Dorothy Batchelder, whose father's family settled in Massachusetts in the 1600's and whose mother traces her family's arrival in this country to the Mayflower, eats poached salmon, peas and new potatoes and strawberry shortcake on the Fourth of July.
"Now that Ms. Batchelder owns a shop called the Fishmonger in Cambridge, she poaches the salmon there, just as she does for her customers, and takes it to her mother's house in Beverly Farms where there are always about 20 people for lunch.
"The Batchelders, like thousands of other New Englanders, are simply following a tradition begun by Abigail and John Adams on July 4, 1776... this stunning combination of salmon, sweet peas and new potatoes became a New England tradition simply because of seasonal availability." (Source - New York Times, June 28, 1989)
In the 21st  century, Americans greet Fourth of July not with culinary elegance or the finest, first-fruits ingredients, but with unhealthy fake-foods hawked by corporations... hot dogs made with scraps and mystery meats, hamburgers dripping with Kraft "cheese" products, weirdly-flavored potato chips, and industrial ice creams laden with chemicals, emulsifiers, additives, and artificial colors and flavors. 

Our Early American ancestors would be appalled by the casual, chemical-laced junk food we merrily consume to mark one of the most important days in the life of our great nation.   They would no more have gobbled grimy pub food to mark the Fourth of July than we would serve cheap take-out pizza at our family Thanksgiving tables... 

My pipe-dream is that someday, 21st-century Americans will respect our nation's history and culinary heritage, and their health, enough to commemorate the Fourth of July with glorious, homemade meals of the finest meats, breads, produce, and dairy.... including a return to drop-dead delicious homemade ice cream.

I'm just saying... wouldn't that be a grand birthday party for America?


  1. Somehow artificiality seems like the perfect American meal... After all, aren't Americans the world experts at pulling the wool over their own eyes? :)

  2. For years our 4th of July meals centered around the grill. Hot dogs, yes, but also chicken, corn on the cob, and either store-bought potato salad or made-from-scratch mashed potatoes. This year I was on my own for the 4th (babysitting the farm while everyone else was out of town) and I fired up my tiny little portable grill to have some nice grilled fresh veggies which I followed up with a big bowl of greek yogurt with fresh apples and walnuts. I'm not sure how it fares on the overall good-for-you scale but it's got to be better than traditional mystery meat hot dogs, right? :-)