NATIONWIDE — For Americans, Independence Day is synonymous with three things: freedom, fireworks, and food. Today we will take a closer look into the last third of that equation: the history of the brews and bites of the Fourth of July.
According to a survey released in July 2020 by Statista, 56 percent of respondents said that they would celebrate the holiday with a cookout. But what is the history behind these specific dishes that we find synonymous with the summer holiday?
Here is a handful of some of the popular dishes that make Independence Day celebrations something great.
The origin story of the hot dog is one that is hotly contested. According to historians, the frankfurter was developed in Vienna (Wien), Austria. Hence the nickname, “wiener.” However, the hot dog as we know it today has several stories as to its roots in North America.
It seems to be a common denominator that it was someone of German heritage that first started peddling them in New York City sometime during the 1860s, selling them from a pushcart in the city’s Bowery.
In 1871, German baker Charles Feltman opened the first hot dog stand at Coney Island, selling 3,684 “dachshund sausages” in milk rolls during his first year of business.
Hot dogs really took off at the 1893 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in Chicago. Multiple vendors sold these cheap, convenient, yet delicious sausages. That same year, sausages became baseball park staples.
But why are they called hot dogs? According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC), some say that the term was derived in April 1901 at the New York Polo Grounds. Venders would sell the dogs, cooked in portable hot water tanks, and call out, “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!”
New York Journal sports cartoonist, Ted Dorgan, drew a cartoon that featured barking dachshund sausages cradled in rolls. Because Dorgan was uncertain as to how to spell dachshund, he simply wrote, “hot dog.”
There are few foods more synonymous with America as the hamburger. Like the hot dog, the hamburger has a long history in the foodie universe.
In the eighteenth century, German sailors visiting New York City would eat from stands along the city’s harbor enjoyed something that resembled a “Hamburger Steak” they were familiar with from back home. This featured steak tartare, but fully cooked.
In the mid-19th century, Germans who emigrated to the United States indulged in Hamburg beef that was salted and sometimes slightly smoked on the long voyage across the ocean.
Meanwhile, Jewish immigrants would take the Hamburg steak and press them into patties.
Like many of these American foods, the hamburger as it is known today found its true genesis in a food cart. In 1885, 15-year-old Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wis. set up a cart selling meatballs made with meat grounded like Hamburg beef at the Outagamie County Fair. His sales were not very good and he realized it was because meatballs are difficult to eat while strolling around a fair. He flattened the meatballs, placed them between two pieces of bread, and, thus, the modern day crowd-pleasing hamburger was born.
In the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers introduced a potatoes to Europe after exploring South America. They made a dish that involved boiling potatoes in wine or using a combination of vinegar and certain spices. Doesn’t sound like the potato salad of your weekend cookout? Well, that is because its not.
While this gave Europe an introduction to a potato-like dish, it was (like the previous two entries to our list) the Germans who really framed the creation of that creamy dish you know and love.
It was from the potatoes brought back from South America that planted roots in Germany.
On March 24, 1756, Prussian King Frederick the Great passed a circular order that ensured the cultivation and distribution of potatoes throughout the empire. Prior to this order, potatoes had a bad reputation as people only knew it by its leaves, which were poisonous. Frederick’s plan was to combat famine by rebranding the potato.
As Germans began emigrating to the United States, they brought with them the many recipes that were created after the popularity of the potato skyrocketed following the circular order.
The recipe evolved over the years, including the biggest contribution made by Richard Hellman. This early twentieth century German immigrant brought a whole new layer to the potato salad recipe: his wife’s recipe which used mayonnaise.
North Carolina Pulled Pork Barbecue
Ask many from the southern United States what barbecue is. Chances are, they will become wildly defensive in explaining that barbecue is a very different thing than a cookout. A cookout or grill out is when you grill meat outside in a get together while barbecue is associated with several specific dishes and, even more so, the way those dishes are made.
Now that we’ve settled that debate, let’s focus on one particular dish: pulled pork barbecue.
While this could lead into yet another debate as to who has the best barbecue, we aren’t going to even open that can of worms. Instead, we are going to focus on North Carolina Barbecue.
North Carolina is a giant state so it isn’t too surprising that there are two different types of barbecue associated with the Tar Heel State.
Pulled pork goes back to the American Revolution. However, the way to cook and serve it varied, dependent upon where you were. In the early- to mid-1800s, the staple for the state’s sauce became a combination of lard or butter with vinegar and peppers.
During World War I, the Piedmont region of the state took its own spin on the dish. Instead of cooking the whole hog, those living in the Piedmont decided to start cooking specific parts of the pig. Additionally, tomato ketchup was added to the butter/lard, vinegar, peppers mix.
Despite the subtle differences in the sauce and cuts cooked, North Carolinians will make no bones about telling you that their barbecue is the best barbecue ever.
Who doesn’t love the sweet and sometimes tart flavors that comes with taking a bite into a beautiful piece of pie?
Believe it or not, this particular Independence Day treat does not have a German origin story!
Pies go back to our ancient ancestors, with it first being documented by the Ancient Romans. Pies were made from reeds that were not for eating, but to simply hold whatever the filling was. The first recorded recipe is of a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.
As this dish spread throughout Europe as the Romans conquered land after land, the evolution of the pie took place. Sometimes spelled “pye,” recipes began appearing in England during the twelfth century. Unlike today, the majority of pies then were savory.
Baked in a crust also known then as a “coffyn,” some sort of bird was used, baked with the legs left intact and left hanging over the side of the dish. These legs were used as a handle to the baking dish.
It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that sweet pies and fruit tarts picked up in popularity. Queen Elizabeth I, a monarch with a deep love for sweets, is credited with the invention of the cherry pie.
When the pie initially came to America with English colonists, like their Ancient Roman ancestors, the crust, still referred to as a coffyn, was not meant to be eaten. During the American Revolution is when the coffyn was rebranded into an edible crust.
As the years went on, so did the evolution of the pie to become one of the desserts that is most identified with America.
Final Foodie Thoughts
While there are many other foods associated with this most patriotic of holidays, there is no doubt that food is an important piece of the celebration.
While indulging in your hot dogs, burgers, berries, pies, barbecue, potato and pasta salads, make sure to think back to that hot day in 1776 when representatives from the thirteen colonies gathered in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to declare our desire to be an independent nation, and raise a glass of your favorite frosty beverage to those who made this holiday — and the foods we associate with it — possible.