Aside from family, friends, festivities and fireworks, a big part of any Fourth of July celebration is the food. From a juicy, satisfying cheeseburger to a slice of apple pie, these American foods go hand-in-hand with backyard celebrations all summer long. Here’s a look at the origin of a handful of what are considered all-American foods along with some recipes and tips for making them at home.
Did you know that the hamburger was created right here in New Haven? Louis Lassen is credited with inventing the hamburger around 1900 at Louis’ Lunch. Answering a customer’s hurried request for something “quick and delicious,” Lassen assembled a hamburger from what he had on hand: grilled ground steak formed into a pattie and sandwiched between two slices of toast.
Today, the restaurant’s fourth-generation owner, Jeff Lassen, is still serving hamburgers from the same building where the first one was created more than a century ago. It’s easy to prepare, he says, “Keep grill hot, sear it, and turn it over. You can put an onion on it, first thing, so that the onion cooks with it. That’s what we do here, most of the time. Then, you get a grilled onion. Next, flip it back over, and serve it medium rare, which is what we prefer. Put it on your toasted bread or bun, whatever you’re using. And you can even add a little butter to the top slice of the bread to enhance it.”
As for other toppings, Lassen recommends cheese, tomato and onion. Nothing else, he says. No ketchup, mustard or any condiments. “If you’re using a good piece of meat, we prefer that you’re tasting the meat as opposed to any of the condiments that you’re putting on,” Lassen says.
Chocolate chip cookie
While it may seem they’ve been around forever, the chocolate chip cookie didn’t actually exist until 1938—and it was invented by mistake. When running The Toll House Inn’s restaurant in Whitman, Mass., Ruth Graves Wakefield (1903-1977) was looking for baker’s chocolate to do something a little different to her pecan drop cookies. Instead, she added chopped up bits from a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar into the cookie dough. When the cookies came out of the oven, she discovered the chocolate had not melted like she had hoped. However, patrons of the inn loved them. She named the cookie, “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie,” which later became Nestlé Toll House’s Original Chocolate Chip Cookie, with its recipe running on the back of the bag of semi-sweet chocolate morsels.
Chocolate Walnut Sea Salt Cookies
Submitted by Sift Bake Shop (Mystic)
We recommend using a scale to ensure accurate measurements
- 30oz. / 850g softened butter
- 24oz. / 680g brown sugar
- 30oz. / 850g sugar
- 10oz. / 284g eggs
- 1/4oz. / 7g vanilla
- 51oz. / 1446g all purpose four
- 4 teaspoons baking soda
- 41/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 22oz. / 624g milk chocolate pieces
- 22oz. / 624g 54% dark chocolate pieces
- 15oz. / 425g walnuts
- Sea salt to garnish
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars on a low speed. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down between each addition to ensure a smooth emulsification followed by the vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients and add to the mixture. Mix until half combined and scrape down the bowl. Add chocolates and walnuts. Mix until combined. Do not over mix. Using an ice cream scoop for even portioning, scoop the cookie dough onto a parchment-lined sheet tray, leaving enough space in between the cookies to spread. Bake at 325°F for 10-12 minutes or until lightly caramelized. Remove from the oven, liberally dust with sea salt to taste and allow to cool. Enjoy!
It’s a symbol of America eaten to celebrate everything from the Fourth of July to Thanksgiving. However, the apple pie first originated in England. But despite the fact that it’s not so American after all, this sweet treat has become a national institution thanks to settlers introducing European apples to our land.
Russell Holmberg, who is the fourth-generation owner of Holmberg Orchards in Gales Ferry, has given advice to hundreds of apple-picking customers over the years, and highlights what to look for in a good pie apple.
“We want an apple that is complex and hearty, with a generous amount of natural acid, loads of flavor, and a firm texture that holds its shape when cooked,” he says. “These are often, but not always, heirloom apples: Russet, Winesap, Idared and Macintosh. The best pies, like the best cider, are made from a blend of apples.”
Holmberg also has some pointers for the basic recipe for a crust: flour, water, salt, shortening, margarine or butter. “Shortening tends to make a flakier crust—butter or lard tends to make it richer. We prefer 50 percent shortening and the remainder butter or margarine,” he notes.
“The most important trick to getting a flaky crust is not to overwork the dough: Cut it in by hand until you have marble-sized chunks, then add cold water. Make sure to stop adding water as soon as a ball forms. The dough should not look smooth and uniform like pizza dough, it should be mottled with shortening. Take care when rolling and shaping, too. Work the dough when it is cold and don’t over-knead it.”
“Sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves—in that order. Plus a little cornstarch to thicken it up,” says Holmberg. “If you’re short on spices, cinnamon-sugar is more than enough flavor. Lemon juice will brighten up a bland apple, too. Early-season apples rarely need acid—sometimes they need a little extra sugar.”
Macaroni and cheese
President Thomas Jefferson and James Hemings, his slave, encountered macaroni in Paris and brought the recipe back to his plantation, Monticello. And while Jefferson commissioned the U.S. ambassador to France, William Short, in 1793, to purchase a machine for making macaroni, it wasn’t suitable. So, for a time, he imported both macaroni and Parmesan cheese for use at Monticello, and it’s said that Hemings perfected the recipe. Then, in 1802, Jefferson served “a pie called macaroni” at a state dinner. Eventually, Mary Rudolph, who took over hostess duties at the White House when Jefferson’s wife died, included a macaroni recipe with Parmesan cheese in her 1824 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. The rest is history, as mac and cheese has been a staple to American cuisine ever since.
A Very Cheesy Mac
Submitted by Chef Carlos Cassar of The Copper Beech Inn’s Oak Room Restaurant:
- 1lb. cavatelli pasta
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 21/2 cups shredded chihuahua cheese (quesadilla melting cheese; set aside 1/2 cup for final topping)
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (divided in half)
- 1 cup American cheese, white
- 11/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 stick butter
For bread crumb topping:
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta for nine minutes to al dente. Strain and cool with running cold water, set aside.
In a medium pot, bring the milk and buttermilk to boil, lower heat to medium, whisk in the butter until completely integrated, slowly add and whisk in the cheddar cheese, do the same with the Chihuahua cheese, followed by American cheese, and then the Parmesan cheese. At this point, it should look like a cheese sauce or fondue. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Mix the pasta and the cheese sauce and transfer into a baking dish.
Breadcrumbs: Mix the panko breadcrumbs and the remaining half of Parmesan cheese with parsley. Top the mac and cheese evenly with the half-cup of reserved Chihuahua cheese followed by the bread crumb mix, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.
“Cavatelli pasta distributes the cheese more evenly than elbows, and the cheeses I chose are a perfect combination of sharp, mild and salty,” says Cassar. “Chihuahua cheese especially melts perfectly, while panko adds a crunch that regular bread crumbs don’t.”
According to Food Timeline, most food historians concur that the All-American favorite, the BLT—bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich—was probably created in the United States during the late-19th or early-20th century. The earliest description of the club sandwich is an entry in the 1903 edition of Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book where the sandwich consisted of bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and a slice of turkey.
The sandwich grew in fame and was popularized after World War II, following the expansion of supermarkets that made ingredients available year-round. And while the BLT is delicious, quick and easy to put together, there are some must-try variations out there too. For example, Flanders Fish Market in East Lyme thought outside the box when adding its version to the menu.
Flanders Fish Market’s BLT
- 2 fl. oz. extra virgin olive oil
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 8 oz. tuna steak
- 2 slices white sourdough bread, toasted
- 2 oz. wasabi mayo (sold at Flanders Fish Market)
- 4 slices bacon, crispy
- 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
- 4 oz. spicy seaweed salad (sold at Flanders Fish Market)
- 2 slices heirloom tomatoes
Over medium-high heat sear the tuna in olive oil until desired doneness.
Toast sourdough bread and spread wasabi mayo on each slice.
Place tuna on bread first, then assemble with remaining ingredients—bacon, avocado, seaweed salad and tomatoes.