Food is a big part of any celebration. When we think of food for the 4th of July, hamburgers, hot dogs and fried chicken come to mind, but they weren’t part of the original 4th of July festivities. Our Founding Fathers couldn’t declare our independence on an empty stomach, but what we think of as a 4th of July menu didn’t become standard until much, much later than 1776. Here’s a brief history of our favorite 4th of July food.
Hamburgers Our Founding Fathers didn’t have our most cherished fare for 4th of July at their Independence Day celebration. The hamburger didn’t become part of popular culture until the late 1800s, but where, exactly, it was first cooked up is debatable. Residents of Hamburg, NY claim the hamburger was named for the town at the county fair when sausage vendors ran out of sausage and put ground beef on a bun. But Wisconsinites say it was teenager selling meatballs at the county fair who should get credit. He put the meat on bread to make it easy to walk and eat. Local historians say he named the sandwich “hamburger” after Hamburg steak. Either way, summer was the season in which the hamburger was born.
Hot Dogs It is possible there were hot dogs at the first Independence Day party. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, the frankfurter — a smaller version of common European sausage — was created in Europe (possibly Germany or Austria) in the 1600s. As European immigrants made their way to the United States, so did the frankfurter. Frankfurters gained popularity for the convenience in the late 1800s with the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. 1893 was also the year hot dogs became a standard at ballparks. Like hamburgers, it’s easy to see why it’s outdoor party food.
Potato Salad According to foodtimeline.org, potato salad was created as early as 1597 but it wasn’t until the late 1800s (much like hamburgers and hot dogs) that it was popularized (likely by German immigrants) in the United States. But German potato salad is made up of bacon, onion and vinegar — no mayonnaise was in the original recipe. Who came up with putting mayo in the potato salad we love to bring to 4th of July barbecues is a mystery, but its first mention in a cookbook was in the 1946 edition of The Joy of Cooking.
Pie Pie was likely served at the first Independence Day feast — both sweet and savory. Putting fruit or meat inside of pastry and baked can be traced as far back as 160 B.C. It was a way to preserve food to make it last for long journeys as well as portable. It’s no surprise that tradition dictates cherry or blueberry pie for our Independence Day parties — berries are in season on the 4th of July and they’re perfectly portable for a party.
We love all of our 4th of July traditions no matter where or when they started. And while like to keep tradition alive, there’s no reason we can’t start new traditions! Whether it’s a new side dish or an unconventional pie, you have the freedom to make up your own 4th of July recipes. It’s what our Founding Fathers wanted.