I lead on this tale with the plea to the residents in my neighborhood to please, PLEASE, don’t set off random fireworks this Fourth of July. I love my home and have spent 35 years decorating it. My friends call it Cluttered Victorian. I don’t want to lose it. However, I feel very patriotic anytime the Fourth of July comes around, and I do understand you wanting to shoot the moon with fireworks. The brave signers of the Declaration of Independence gave up their all when they signed this remarkable document. It cost them their wealth, the lives of their friends and sometimes their own lives. The words America and Freedom are synonymous all over the world.
Since I am a history teacher and a cook, let’s talk history. When the new nation celebrated as the war ended September 3, 1783, the men stepped in style. They wore short pants to the knees, socks up to the knee and a long coat that hit them at the knees with those famous tri-cornered hats. They had a thing for men’s knees. The women wore long dresses with corsets pulled so tight that when they ate or drank, they passed out. OK, I made that up, but women wore lots of petticoats under skirts and always a frilly bonnet to cover their heads. They ate dinner at what we call lunch and it started with turtle soup, then, poached salmon with peas and new potatoes. They drank cider and port. The children did not celebrate with adults; they sat away and had lots of bread and milk. President Thomas Jefferson was the first to hold a party for Independence Day in the White House; his nemesis, President Adams had 13 ships on the river in D.C. fire their cannons 13 times after the 13 new colonies. Both men died on the same 4th of July. Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “The Fourth should be celebrated from this Time forward, evermore.”
One hundred years later, in 1876, they still held parades, speeches, picnics and fireworks but, it was a little different from today. The men wore long pants, not Levis, long sleeve shirts, vests and slightly shorter coats. They wore hats, sometimes made from beaver, sometimes out West it was Stetsons and hand-made boots. Women had gotten rid of the hoops and petticoats. They still had bustles, long skirts, puffed sleeves and a large hat that covered the face from the sun. Women’s clothes were very decorated with heavy flower designs. They wore gloves everywhere. For a meal, the Americans of that era ate what they raised and hunted. More beef was eaten up north, and more venison down south. You ate what was in season all over the U.S. To go on a picnic, you would take cold roast beef, rack of lamb, roast duck, or on the east coast, lobsters and stewed fruit in glass jars eaten over biscuits. Lots of breads and butter or cheese sandwiches were common. The end of the feast was turnovers, cakes and fresh fruit for dessert. Adults drank wine, kids drank milk. No one carried water in a bottle, you drank from a stream. (Don’t get me started on dysentery.) Real cloth napkins with wooden plates were used.
Fast track to the present: We like our cookouts. Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chili dogs, baked beans, Jell-O, chips and guacamole, and buffalo wings. All desserts are dyed red, white and blue, of course.
Oh, that reminds me of when my patriotism almost killed my family. I am 74, so no one could blame or sue me now. When I was 12 I made a yellow cake. I had enough powdered sugar to make white frosting, but no red and blue food coloring. So… so… I found a way. I took blue ink from my Dad’s fountain pen, red iodine from the bathroom and folded it into some of the white frosting. I made an American flag, and it looked beautiful. Mom was just about to cut it for the family and neighbors when she asked me, “Jo, where did you find the food coloring? I thought we were out?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said I, smoothly. “Dad won’t care.” Well, Mom did care, and it went on from there, and the red iodine which might have been fatal was forever beaten into my butt when she emphasized it was medicine and I was an idiot child. They scraped off the frosting and we ate the cake. Why couldn’t I be remembered as the creative cook? I don’t decorate any more. Roaring Mouse making only Jell-O, over and out.