Of all the exciting places to eat in the world, the United States ranks high on my list of favorites. Seriously. You’re probably thinking she must be joking —meatloaf, hot dogs, and hamburgers are exciting foods? Well, in some sense, they are, otherwise people wouldn’t continue to eat them in both dingy diners and upscale eateries.
Happily, the Great American Melting Pot constantly redefines “American” cuisine, making pizza, eggrolls and tacos just as American as apple pie. This cultural and culinary interchange has gone on since before the Declaration of Independence.
Even prior to the arrival of European explorers, native peoples were sharing and trading foods from their local villages with other tribes, further distributing such indigenous North and South American ingredients as vanilla beans, cacao or chocolate, and corn, along with tomatoes and other crops.
Boston may have had its Tea Party, and Philadelphia the Liberty Bell, but the fertile South was arguably the colonial leader in sumptuous cookery.
Thomas Jefferson raised corn salad, Italian squashes and even sesame in his Virginia home of Monticello, crops which later found their way into local farms and cookbooks.
Even before Jefferson, in the early 1700’s, the upper-crust of England settled into the rich coastal plain of the Carolinas, known as the Lowcountry, where they merged English traditions with African spice, Atlantic shellfish, and bountiful greens, beans and fruits.
This week, I’ve assembled an assortment of Southern dishes, to reflect how our founding families of Virginia and Charleston may have celebrated July 4th.
Start off with Chilled Southern Spiced Shrimp, followed by Pulled Pork, spoon bread, snap beans, and a nibble of Southern Pralines or Peach Crisp.
The rest of July I’ll explore other regional recipes, riding first into Texas cowboy country, and then across the Southwest into sunny California—the ultimate panorama of modern melting pot cuisine.
Finally, I’ll finish the tour with all-American bake sale treats and an assortment of salads to take with you into hot-weather grilling.
Three cheers for the red, white and blue… And all our other colors, too. Happy Independence Day!