For this year's Fourth of July menu, give up the "hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob and ice cream" idea of tradition and take the advice Martha Washington offered women of her day: Rediscover the recipes of our Colonial ancestors.
One person who took Martha Washington's advice to heart was Amelia Simmons, author of "American Cooking," considered the first truly American cookbook and a direct ancestor of "The Boston Cooking School Cook-Book" (1796). Her 47 pages of New England recipes highlight staples such as corn, beans, squash, potatoes, pumpkin and apples and dishes such as pumpkin pudding, ash cakes, slapjacks, Indian pudding, baked beans, roast game and boiled seafood.
In the Mid-Atlantic region pork reigned supreme and was made into everything from Virginia hams to sausages and bacon.
Colonists in the South had their own way of cooking, too. Barbecued pork, fried chicken, Brunswick stew, black-eyed peas, grits, turnip greens and other greens in "potlikker," coleslaw, hush puppies and peach pie graced many tables.
By the 18th century, the Colonies had a steady supply of sugar, which they used for sweets such as gingerbread, poundcake, trifles and flavored gelatins. They drank coffee, tea, hot chocolate and ginger beer, as well as beer and ale, cider, wine and mixed alcoholic drinks such as shrub, rum punch and apple toddies.
For modern-day menu ideas and recipes for a Colonial Fourth of July, I recommend "Star-Spangled Cooking: A Food Lover's Tour of America," a collection of regional recipes celebrating the "rich variety" of America's "native pantry." It was published in 1987 by Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, a founding sponsor of Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation.
DRY MARINATED SPARERIBS
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled
4 bay leaves
9 pounds pork spareribs
In blender or food processor, combine dry ingredients and process to a fine powder. Sprinkle on both sides of ribs. Wrap ribs in a double thickness of heavy-duty foil and seal well. Refrigerate 12-24 hours. Prepare grill. Arrange ribs 4-6 inches above medium low heat. Grill slowly, turning occasionally, until ribs are browned and tender, 2 1/2 -3 1/2 hours. Cut into serving pieces and serve immediately. Serves six to eight.
TURNIP GREENS AND POTLIKKER
1/2 pound salt pork, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds turnip, collard, spinach or other greens, washed and trimmed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a 5-quart Dutch oven, bring 3 quarts water and salt pork to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in greens and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until greens are tender. Drain. Discard salt pork. Arrange greens on a serving platter and sprinkle with pepper. Serves six.
2 1/2 pints fresh blueberries
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon each salt, grated nutmeg, ground ginger, ground mace
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
2/3 cup milk
creme fraiche or whipped cream for topping
In large glass bowl, combine blueberries, lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and cardamom. Divide mixture evenly among 8 lightly greased 10- or 12-ounce baking dishes. In a medium bowl, combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, ginger, mace and lemon zest. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Divide dough into 8 equal parts and drop by spoonfuls onto blueberry mixture. Bake in a 425-degree oven until berries are bubbly and top is golden, 30-35 minutes. Serve with topping. Serves eight.