A Fourth of July feast

Categories: Expert guidance

Celia Brooks offers tips and suggestions for an authentic Independence Day feast

Words: Celia Brooks

I grew up in the heart of the beautiful American south-west, Colorado, before being lured to London at the tender age of 19. I have lived here ever since. I love the grey skies, green hills and misty moist mornings, but the Fourth of July always brings out my inner American.

At home, you know it’s Independence Day when, before lunchtime, the sweet smoky fragrance of lit barbecue pits starts wafting across the landscape. American Independence Day is a national holiday, and cooks can’t wait to get started making their favourite chow as soon as they roll out of bed.

The Fourth of July is synonymous with barbecued food. The national favourites are beef brisket (a large cut of meat from the breast or lower chest, marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce), steaks, hot dogs, ‘brots’ (bratwurst sausages), and marinated veggie ‘kabobs’ (skewered vegetables) for the vegetarians. Baked beans are the statutory accompaniment to barbecued food, but not the sort you pour out of a tin—rather, a homemade slow-cooked pot of white or mixed beans reduced to sticky richness with molasses, spices and often chunks of bacon.

Corn-on-the-cob, ideally purchased from a roadside farm truck if you’re in the mid-west, is a must—alas, British corn probably won’t be ready in time. You’ll find corn from warmer climes available in the Market, however, which can be barbecued in their husks or boiled and served with butter or mayo mixed with lime juice, fresh coriander and, for some south-western flair, a smattering of chipotles in adobo (smoked jalapeno chillies in a rich sauce, available from Spice Mountain).

Fresh salad greens
Potato salad is another favourite, usually served in the classic style—boiled potato cubes with mayo, boiled eggs, dill pickles and celery—or German-style: whole new potatoes dressed in a mustardy vinaigrette. Don’t forget the ranch dressing for adorning your fresh salad greens and dipping your chips in—that’s crisps and/or corn tortilla chips to you Brits.

Dessert is where it really gets fun. This is the opportunity to come up with whatever red, white and blue edibles you can muster: a layered fruit salad of strawberries, whipped cream and blueberries for example. My mom’s rhuberry cobbler was always a triumph—baked rhubarb and blueberries with a crunchy nutmeg-spiked sugar topping, served with vanilla ice cream.

American flag-decorated cakes, cupcakes, cookies and brownies are usually offered in huge portions on a platter, adorned with sparklers.

World’s juiciest, sweetest watermelons
But if there’s one food that is absolutely, positively essential for Independence Day, it’s watermelon. Britain can grow watermelons about as well as it can produce a winning national football team, but our proximity to Turkey, Greece and Cyprus means you can get some of the world’s juiciest and sweetest seasonal watermelons from Borough’s greengrocers right now.

A watermelon seed-spitting contest is a mandatory post-feast activity. There’s always more watermelon than you can possibly eat in one sitting, so try whizzing it up in a blender with a little sugar, lime juice, ice, and lots of tequila, pour into giant goblets, then kick back and enjoy the fireworks. U-S-A! U-S-A!