Digging Into The History of July 4th Food
This a three part series about the history of the 4th of July. I wrote it sometime back, but the story has not changed much, and it’s packed with historical trivia and info about a different time.
When John Adams signedÂ the DeclarationÂ of Independence, he wrote to his wife, Abigail, thatÂ the dayÂ of the signing “will beÂ the most memorable epoch inÂ the history of America.
“. . . I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations asÂ the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, asÂ the dayÂ of deliverance by solemn actsÂ of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one endÂ of this continent toÂ the other, from this time forward, forevermore.”
Curiosity about food traditions fromÂ the original FourthÂ of July led us to Lynne Farrington, curatorÂ of books atÂ the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library atÂ the Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.Â The Annenberg library has a tremendous collectionÂ of rare books on all things culinary. University
Farrington sharedÂ the information for this article from several historical treatises and sources, including “CelebratingÂ the Fourth: Independence Day andÂ the Nationalism inÂ the Early Republic” by Len Travers; “The Glorious Fourth: An American Holiday, An AmericanÂ History” by Diana Karter Appelbaum; and “The History of American Eating & Drinking.” RitesÂ American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated
ThoughÂ the Adamses celebratedÂ the FourthÂ of July each year with enthusiasm, their tastes atÂ the dinner table reflected New England thrift and simplicity. OnÂ the menu at their home: Turtle Soup, Broiled Salmon Steaks or New England Poached Salmon with Egg Sauce, Green Peas, Boiled New Potatoes in Jackets, Indian Pudding or Apple Pandowdy, coffee and tea.
As celebrations acrossÂ the country grew and got more elaborate, there usually was a “committeeÂ of arrangements” that hadÂ the privilegeÂ of drawing upÂ the FourthÂ of July program. ReadingsÂ of the DeclarationÂ of Independence were very popular.
Toasts were de rigueur, often punctuated with musket or cannon fire and followed by a patriotic or political song such as “Adams and Liberty,” or new lyrics were written for “Yankee Doodle.”
It didn’t take long beforeÂ the crowdsÂ of those who wanted to observe formal ceremonies outgrew a single church or tavern. Each celebration had its own orator, followed by multiple dinners. It has been postulated that this is how America’s first political parties were formed. And it was at these first ceremonies thatÂ the myriadÂ of FourthÂ of July food traditions started.
InÂ the early yearsÂ of the new nation,Â the peopleÂ of Philadelphia and Charleston especially enjoyed turtle soup for Independence Day. Local restaurants advertisedÂ the exact hour at whichÂ the rich concoction would be available. It could be sampled or “gentlemen” could send their servants to buy it for home consumption.
Turtle meat was also advertised for sale on that day if you wanted to make your own.
The popularityÂ of turtle soup diminished as concern about protecting certain speciesÂ of turtles grew. Today, mock turtle soup is still popular down South, but this version is made with veal stew meat. OneÂ of the few restaurants inÂ the United States that still serves authentic turtle soup is found in New Orleans. Commander’s Palace uses locally farmed turtles.
InÂ the early 1800s, FourthÂ of July celebrations had spread far and wide, particularly in New York, whereÂ the immigrants were celebrating their promised land.
Frederick Marryat described a FourthÂ of July celebration in 1837:
“But what was most remarkable, Broadway being three miles long, andÂ the booths lining each sideÂ of it, in every booth, there was a roast pig, large or small asÂ the center attraction. Six milesÂ of Roast Pig! And that in New York City alone; and roast pig in every other city, town, hamlet and village inÂ the Union. What association can there be between roast pig and independence?”
THEN AND NOW
They sayÂ history repeats itself with food and fashion — and cooking outdoors will never go outÂ of style. Today’s FourthÂ of July celebration still has pomp, parades, games, sports and illuminations, just as John Adams predicted. ButÂ the food has become less formal and has changed withÂ the technologyÂ of our times.
Cooking outside is stillÂ the favorite way to celebrate. Pig, potatoes, peas and ice cream are still onÂ the hit list. Today, though, paper plates and potluck parties have takenÂ the placeÂ of. The good news is that even though 225 years have passed since our nation declared its independence, some favorite FourthÂ of July recipes are still thrifty and simple.
Here’s a historical recipe for Turtle Soup, taken fromÂ the 1939 cookbookÂ of the Baton Rouge Junior League. You may substitute veal stew meat forÂ the turtle.
Select a turtleÂ of desired size.
Clean it well and cut into small pieces. If when bought, someÂ of the inside is added toÂ the meat, scrape well and cut small also.
Fry a large onion in hot lard, when done add a spoonfulÂ of flour and letÂ the whole brown nicely; put inÂ the meat and let it fry awhile. Add tomatoes,Â the quantityÂ of bouillon needed, and a glassÂ of each white and Madeira wine.
Season to taste with pepper, a few cloves and bouquet consistingÂ of a coupleÂ of bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Lastly add 2 spoonfulsÂ of Worcestershire sauce.
Serve with toast bread.
Next post-Â more recipes. stay tuned.