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Mustard Squiggles of History

“Mom, you did it wrong.” My seven year old son told me. “I don't just want mustard on the bottom. I want it squiggled across the top. Ya-know, like a classic hotdog?” Convention has left him with a very specific ideal of how this All-American dish should be served. Memorial Day to Labor Day is ‘peak hotdog season.’ Americans consume around 7 billion hotdogs - 818 every second! That’s a lot of squiggles.

Hot dogs go hand-in-hand with summertime but at no place are they more traditional then an Independence Day celebration. Most of us take the parades, picnics, barbecues, sparklers and fireworks of July 4th for granted. Truth be told, it's easy to take them for granted since many of our traditional observances have been around since John Adams dined with Abigail on turtle soup July 5, 1776.

Ronald Reagan said, "All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” The food traditions that have been passed down to celebrate America's Birthday are part of our history and shared experience. Is back-yard barbecue how you and your family blow out candles for America? If so, you are in company with revolutionary war heroes, who in 1815 spent the happy occasion, "fully partaking of foreign and domestic liquors and dining on a hog broiled whole or barbecue.” On the Fourth do you head off to the park for a family picnic? You would fit right in with the good ladies of Northampton Massachusetts, who in 1839 had already been observing the Fourth of July for over 40 years, with the delightful custom of a ‘pic nic’ or rural tea party. July is one of the hottest months but many of us keep cool during the holiday with a refreshing glass of lemonade. They were doing the same thing in 1847, where they served macaroons along side lemonade that could be spiked with a, "fine bowl of temperance beverage.”

Potato chips are every mom's friend at busy July Fourth get- together's. And they were on the menu in 1933 as well:

"The Fourth of July has a way of becoming a holiday

for everyone but mother unless she diverts the current.

The children want picnics or parties, and father wants a

good time. So does mother for that matter, only a good

time is a bit more difficult or her because she is responsible

for the food for family and friends who may drop in. Her

good time depends on her forethought. She really can act

with surprising ease as a magic combination hostess, mother

and dispenser of favors. That is, she can if she plans the main

dish or two she can prepare the day before, and if she buys

plenty of paper plates, cups, glasses, napkins and so forth to

do away with dishwashing and other service on what often

proves to be a boiling hot day.”

Christian Science Monitor, June 30, 1933

Even paper plates, cups, napkins have been a part of Independence Day celebrations for over 100 years. Who knew? So has advice to moms on making sure that they plan the merrymaking in such a way that they can participate. It's a welcome reminder. Having fun and celebrating is just as valuable for us moms as it is for the rest of our families.

For my mom and dad, potato salad was always part of any summertime celebration, especially on July Fourth. I'm not sure who originated our family recipe, or how far back it went; I just know it included a lot of Idaho potatoes (my mom is an Idaho girl) boiled eggs, mayonnaise, a bit of mustard and salt and pepper. Very simple, no pickles or olives or exotic spices (although my dad did make a separate batch with chopped raw onion just for him). We would always make a big enough batch to fill up the large yellow Tupperware salad bowl - 10 or more pounds of potato salad! But somehow at the end of the night most of the potato salad was gone. And it's a good thing because at those hot temperatures, with all that mayonnaise…yuck. Of course ice cream shows up on Independence Day menus far back into the 1800s. And since it was one of Washington's favorite foods, you can bet it was eaten at American celebrations from the very beginning.

Taste of Home has put out a list of the most popular Fourth of July food state by state. You can check to see where your favorite dish is a big hit.

Whether you like baked beans, macaroni salad or fried chicken you can trace those iconic dishes back to the founding moments of our nation. So as you begin your Fourth of July planning, remember two things. One, make sure all your preparations include a way for mom to have fun and celebrate too. Two, recognize that just by serving some of your families favorite dishes you are participating in a long heritage that is America. If you want to share that information with your kids, you could have a short food history lesson right at the dinner table. But you could also just serve a classic American hotdog and draw on mustard squiggles - knowing in your heart that with each squeeze of the yellow bottle you are participating in the fabric of American History.

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