There are a couple of paths that national holiday foods take here in the United States: hidebound and family-centric, or casual and open-to-suggestion. On Thanksgiving we gather closely together inside the confines of a house to share a bounty of foods with our nearest and dearest – and every year everyone brings the exact same dishes (and baggage) to the table. Mom always brings the pearl onions. Ken always mashes the potatoes. Peter is loathe to let anyone else lovingly baste the turkey. We have assignments and mutual expectations for the annual ritual. Each year we tell the same stories, and most likely, engage in the same jawboning arguments. We get increasingly snappish with the each glass of wine. Turkey and tiffs, they go together.
The Fourth of July reliably brings back free and happy plein air-y summer memories of childhood. A general feeling of freedom and bonhomie presides over the Fourth of July. We rid ourselves of tyranny, so now, let the games begin! We’ll be eating outside, waving sparklers, cooling off with a hose and being impatient for the fireworks to begin. We play baseball and horseshoes or even croquet! We share a collective memory of sitting on a blanket, waiting for dusk to fall, trying to catch fire flies. The blanket is on the damp grass in a lumpy, bumpy field surrounded by small clusters of friends and family and strangers. There is always a baby who is startled by the unexpected noise, and then, hopefully, is charmed by the magical streaking lights in the sky. By the time the grand finale rolls along one hopes the baby is a fireworks convert. If not? There is always next year.
Unlike Thanksgiving there is no set-in-stone food item on the Independence Day menu. You can let your imagination run riotously through the grocery store aisles. Instead of staid turkey you can rustle up a veritable cornucopia of delights. You can have hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, fried chicken or brats. I daresay some folks will be grilling lamb chops, barbecued ribs or shish kabobs. And what about shrimp and paella? Opportunistic vegetarians can toss any number of veggies onto the barbie. Grilled corn! What a summer treat! Baked beans! Potato chips! Potato salad! Cucumber salad! Pickles! A clambake! Lobster! Crabs! The picnic table can be a veritable groaning board on the Fourth of July, and it is up to you to explore the possibilities! And best of all, there is no good china to wash, or silver to polish.
The New York Times has a mind-boggling array of Fourth of July food ideas: http://cooking.nytimes.com/topics/fourth-of-july-recipes
Our clever friends at Food52 also have a compendium of inspiration: https://food52.com/recipes/fourth-of-july
All of our grill masters have their own secret hamburger grilling practices, but we found advice from an unusual source: Popular Mechanics! http://www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/outdoors/g223/4279130/?slide=1
There are some among us who dote on deviled eggs, and the Fourth of July is the perfect time to whip up a batch or two: http://gardenandgun.com/blog/deviled-eggs-recipe
Here is an idea for sprucing up the corn on the cob ritual, grilling instead of boiling or steaming, and adding some lime juice and a dusting of cheese: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/grilled-corn-cheese-lime-recipe
Or this way with ginger bacon butter! http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/grilled-corn-ginger-bacon-butter/
Drinkwise, I think filling a galvanized tub filled with ice, glass bottles of Coke, a few beers, some Prosecco and a big fat watermelon is quite enough for a perfect Fourth. But you might want to try some of these festive Fourth of July-themed cocktails: http://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/7/1/8836235/bartenders-fourth-of-july
I am going to try my hand at this impressive Food52 American Flag Cake: https://food52.com/recipes/28811-american-flag-cake
All I ever usually manage is a vanilla sheet cake, slathered in whipped cream and artfully decorated with a square of blueberries and some wobbly, waving strawberry stripes. It is always delicious, it is a kid crowd pleaser, and it is easy peasy, which as you Gentle Readers know, is my kitchen mantra. Yumsters!
Have a happy and safe Independence Day!
From your friends in the Spy test kitchens!
“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”