The 4th of July has become a widely loved holiday among Americans. And I mean, what’s not to love? Family, friends, barbecues, beer – the list goes on and on. Some of these Independence Day food traditions seem so quintessentially American, but surprisingly, not all of them actually are. Here are some common 4th of July food traditions and how they started.
Arguably the most famous 4th of July food tradition is the all-American barbecue, which brings many American families and friends together around a grill. In fact, more than 74 million Americans will plan to barbecue for this holiday.
Despite barbecues being widely associated with America, many believe that barbecue originated in the Caribbean, and later worked its way into the American South.
Barbecue, especially barbecue pork, became so popular in the South due to the abundance of pigs. Since barbecue style cooking allows for a lot of food to be cooked at once (like for a family gathering), it quickly became an American tradition.
You can’t have a barbecue without the classic hot dog. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (yes, it’s a legit council) has declared the month of July as National Hot Dog Month. However, July 4th is the day in which hot dog consumption among Americans is the highest. In fact, it is estimated that 150 million hot dogs will be eaten on July 4th.
The sausage has been around for a pretty long time. Even Homer’s Odyssey makes mention of sausage. But the food that is most similar to our beloved hot dog is the German frankfurter, which has presumably evolved greatly into the hot dog we know and love today.
While the exact origin of the hot dog is unknown, it isthought to have been brought to America by immigrants. Up until 1893, the hot dog wasn’t even associated with American culture at all. In that year, the hot dog became standard fare at many baseball parks across America, thanks to St. Louis bar owner Chris Von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns and a German immigrant.
Red, White and Blue Everything
One of the most quintessential 4th of July food traditions is the prevalence of red, white and blue. Of course, the dominance of these three colors seems natural because of our flag. But why are these the three colors on the flag in the first place?
June 14, 1777 (Flag Day for those of y’all who don’t know) a resolution was passed by the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress that created our beloved American flag.
The resolution said, “the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.”
But the significance of red, white, and blue actually began the year prior. On July 4th, 1776, the official seal of the United States was created. When Secretary Charles Thomson presented the seal to the Continental Congress he explained the significance: white signifies purity, red signifies valor, and blue signifies perseverance.
So go ahead and make one of these red, white and blue jello shots and celebrate the colors of our nation.
It’s interesting to think that something as simple as a red plastic cup could become a symbol of American pop culture. The infamous red solo cup is actually just one of the Solo® Company’s many tupperware products.
The red cup was introduced to the American household in the 1970s as a “time saving product” for people hosting large parties. Since the cup is disposable and 18 ounces, it seems perfect to accommodate party-goers.
What is unknown, however, is the significance of the iconic red color. Some believe that the red hue was a marketing ploy. Red is a gender-neutral color, and is seen as attractive to consumers. Companies typically use red in their branding to be seen as exciting and youthful.
Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob is a barbeque staple, which makes it so popular on the 4th of July. While corn is the most abundant and cultivated grain in the United States, corn has been around for thousands of years.
Corn has been viewed as the ancient grain of the New World, and is believed to be first cultivated 9,000 years ago in southern Mexico. Shortly after, Native Americans discovered the versatility of corn and it began to be grown and harvested across the United States. In fact, the Native Americans have been eating corn off of the cob well before the Europeans even set foot in America.
Lemonade has been around for longer than you would have thought. Many historians believe that lemons were brought from Asia to Egypt in 700 AD. Around that same time, Qatarmizat, a lemon based drink sweetened with sugar became popularized.
Though Qatarmizat may be a bit different than the lemonade that we drink today, it has evolved over the last few thousand years. Compagnie de Limonadiers was started in 1676 in Paris and is what is believed to be the first soda company. The company sold their lemonade on the streets of Paris — the first lemonade stand.
When attending a 4th of July barbecue, it’s not uncommon to be served strawberry shortcake for dessert. Strawberry shortcake has been around for nearly 200 years. The first recorded recipe is found in “Miss Leslie’s Ladies Recipe Book,” published in 1847. Miss Leslie calls her dessert “Strawberry Cake,” but its similar to the strawberry shortcake we enjoy today.
Like most dishes, strawberry shortcake has evolved over time. The first strawberry shortcakes were made with a pastry similar to pie crust, which was baked, then split apart and filled with mashed strawberries (similar to a sandwich), then coated in sugar frosting. The strawberry shortcake of Miss Leslie’s time could be compared to biscuits with strawberries and frosting.
In the late 19th century, “strawberry shortcake” parties became popular. Many historians believe that this is why the strawberry shortcake recipe began to evolve, to accommodate to different individual tastes. Icing was replaced with a lighter whipping cream, and the previous biscuit texture was replaced with an angel food cake-like texture.
While pie is a common food tradition during many American holidays, pies filled with fresh summer fruits is surely a 4th of July food tradition. Pie has become the most traditional American dessert — some may even use it to describe something as patriotic as “as American as apple pie.” However, pie has been around much longer than our nation.
Pie was brought to America by the first English colonists. Pies were previously popular in England, though they were often meat pies. (The first fruit pie was thought to be made by Queen Elizabeth I, who made a cherry pie). Often, these English pies consisted of more crust than filling, to hold the pie together. The crust of the pie was known as the “coffyn.”
The early colonists cooked their pies in narrow pans which they called coffins. Much like their English ancestors, the colonists rarely ate the crust of their pie, but used it to hold the filling during baking. The term crust was not used until the American Revolution, when the colonists stopped using the term coffin. As more colonists began to settle, pioneer woman began to bake pies that were more regionalized, using local ingredients.
Ice cream has been around for thousands of years — even Alexander The Great mentions “snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar.” Ice cream was a luxury that was only enjoyed by the wealthiest of elite. Thanks to the invention of refrigeration, the manufacturing of ice cream became a rising industry. Ice cream itself became popular after the creation of the ice cream parlor, which became a social hangout for many Americans in the late 19th century.
Historically, ice cream became an edible symbol of morale during World War II – each branch of the military tried to outdo one another by serving ice cream to its troops. The first floating ice cream parlor was built in 1945 for sailors in the western Pacific. Ice cream became such an American symbol during World War II that Mussolini banned ice cream in Italy. When the war ended, America celebrated its victory with ice cream. Americans consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person in 1946.