It’s 6:30 am, and the air is fresh after a nighttime rain. I’m marveling at the glistening moisture on my backyard trees. Rather large spider webs are joining cedar to cedar and look as though they are designs formed with diamonds. It’s quiet all around as a backdrop for singing birds as excited as I am to welcome a new day. I’m thinking ahead to offspring coming in for Fourth of July celebrations with a birthday party thrown in for good measure. All of this celebrating, of course, will need to be met with ample supplies of food and beverage. Today, I remember foods mom, and her friends served when I was a youngster at July 4th gatherings and other summer festivities.
Mom didn’t make casseroles, but most of our family’s friends provided “mystery” casseroles at shared picnics and barbecues. The casseroles seemed to be all made from some version of Campbell’s “Cream of Something.” Other ingredients often included peas fresh from the garden. Diced potatoes or pasta would round out each one nicely. I recall potato salad that would have eggs and peas added, making it seem more like a cold casserole. I’m not a fan of eggs or peas in potato salad, but I sure looked forward to trying out casseroles. Mom’s friends had gardens, so ingredients were grown “locally,” meaning in their backyards. Freshly grown vegetables were flavor enhancers.
Corn wasn’t available for July 4th gatherings, but I don’t think we missed it because we could count on ribs, chicken, and burgers on the grill. Oh, my, I can still remember the smell of “charcoal grilling.” Most people didn’t have “fancy” outdoor grills. Either we had a hole in the ground with a grate over it, or round, free-standing, non-gas grills, easily portable by truck from barbecue to barbecue. The smell wasn’t great when impatience lead to using flammable liquids to get the briquettes going, but once that phase was over, the aroma of crispy chicken skin and A1 sauce doused burgers would make everyone’s bellies start gurgling, and mouths watering. A1 steak sauce was a cooking staple. Events would often include appetizers with A1 as an enhancement. Pour it over cream cheese adorned with diced clams. Serve with crackers and Bugles.
Salads would often arrive in bowls or on platters. Mom served garden salads or cut cucumbers and carrots served with a dip on the side.
However, I extend gratitude to whoever was responsible for convincing eaters that jello is a salad when it isn’t a dessert.
I don’t know why these fell out of favor, but I always made sure I scoped out the table for platters of glistening red, green, or sometimes rainbow layered creations. The downside to these creations was they melted in the sun’s rays, but you can’t prove that by me. They were not available long enough to melt or have as leftovers. Once in a while, someone would try to make their creation seem like a salad by adorning it with mayonnaise. Mom would usually admonish me to save some for everyone else and not ruin my dinner with eating jello. What? That was my dinner! Or so I tried to convince her.
Beverages, of course, were copious servings of iced teas, possibly pitchers of kool-aid, and occasional batches of “Zarex” punch.
Adult males would often sit off to the side and pop open a can or two of icy cold Budweiser. After eating, teenagers often snuck off for private festivities, sometimes including cigarettes or beer.
Mostly kids were left to their entertainment which often included softball games, Frisbee throwing, or swimming, depending on location. There was also the more than an occasional rendition of “boys chase the girls” or “girls chase the boys.” The ladies visited with a watchful eye over the younger set, and would often keep their white gloves on, with matching purses hung over their arm. Why wear white gloves to a picnic is as much a mystery as some of the casseroles.
Eventually, most of the food would be consumed, along with the high energy level with which folks had arrived. The smallest of the small would nap on laps or whatever blankets they could nab. Chatter would quiet down, and talk would often become the more serious discussion of town politics. Food and holiday were the modalities to bring people together, but it was the socializing and bonding that kept them coming back. Or maybe it was the jello salad.