Celebrating America’s Birthday

By Antonia Demas, Ph.D.

“Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”  – Thomas Jefferson

Red, white & blue petunias

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”  – Thomas Jefferson

Our founding fathers created a carefully worded document to form a new country free from British rule. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of declaring independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was officially adopted two days later on July 4, 1776. Celebrations were held in Philadelphia to honor the occasion by the ringing of the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall.

Our first flag was commissioned by George Washington and sewn by Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress. Ms. Ross found it difficult to sew six pointed stars but was able to create five pointed stars. These stars were sewn into a circle representing the original 13 colonies. As additional territories were added to the growing nation, each one was represented by its own star. Our flag now has 50 stars that are white on a blue background representing our 50 states and 13 stripes that are red and white representing our 13 original colonies. The colors of the flag are symbolic with red standing for courage, white for purity and innocence, and blue stands for justice for all.

We continue to celebrate America’s birthday every July 4th which was first declared a federal holiday in 1870 and was made into a paid federal holiday in 1941 by Congress. July is usually a hot month across the United States of America. Since many employees have the day off work, they celebrate by having leisurely picnics and barbecues with friends and family to celebrate America’s birthday.

Traditional foods eaten at picnics and barbecues include hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad and pasta salad, chips and watermelon. This blog features healthy recipes made from red, white and blue foods. Many foods these colors are in season this time of year – red potatoes, cherries, and strawberries; blueberries and blue potatoes; white potatoes, radishes, turnips, and fennel bulbs. The red and blue pigmented foods are great sources of antioxidants and are safer to take on a picnic because they do not contain animal proteins.

The July 4th celebratory events are meant to be a relaxed way to enjoy friends and family over food. However, if one is not aware of food safety concerns food spoilage can interfere with enjoying the holiday. When the weather turns hot and protein foods are left out in the heat, bacteria develop which can cause food poisoning with often dire consequences. We now understand this issue much better, but education must occur to prevent this from happening. We have developed thermoses and insulated coolers that can keep food out of the sun and at the proper temperature.

Eating meals outdoors has been done for centuries by people around the world. The word picnic comes from the French “pique-nique” and means packing a meal to eat outdoors. In the early days, picnics were a favorite activity of the aristocrats who embraced this practice as a form of entertainment and way to spend hours eating gourmet items. The French Artist Edouard Manet painted a rendition of this in 1863 in his famous painting The Luncheon on the Grass (Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Edouard-Manet-The-Luncheon-on-the-Grass-1862-1863_fig2_303737759)

After the French Revolution many French with means moved to other countries and took their love of eating outdoors with them. This practice was embraced by the British upper class as well as by people with less means. Outdoor eating became popular during the warm summer months in many countries including the U.S. as a leisure activity.

America’s favorite way to celebrate its birthday has been to enjoy picnics and barbecues outdoors, often close to a body of water for swimming and/or recreational activities. At night, when darkness falls, firework displays which have become quite elaborate, are featured in many communities to the delight of the audience. Happy Birthday America! May we always remember the values expressed in our Constitution!

Many ingredients in these recipes were donated by Wegmans Grocery Store in Ithaca, NY.

RECIPES

American Flag Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 6 – 8 blue sweet potatoes
  • 1 quart tomato sauce
  • 6 – 8 fresh basil leaves
  • 6 – 8 sliced zucchini pieces
  • 6 – 8 sliced eggplant pieces
  • 6 – 8 sliced mushrooms
  • Around 40 cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

Optional ingredients

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Peppers
  • Other veggies

Directions

1. Cook the lasagna noodles in boiling water until al dente.

2. Set one noodle aside and cut into 50 star shapes using a cookie cutter or knife.

3. Place one layer of noodles in a baking dish.

4. Add sliced zucchini and another layer of pasta.

5. Add sliced eggplant and mushrooms. Cover with tomato sauce and basil.

6. Top with remaining pasta.

7. Boil whole blue sweet potatoes until tender. Peel and mash. Place a rectangle in upper left corner of lasagna.

8. Add star pasta cutouts on top of blue sweet potatoes.

9. Place the tomato halves on the pasta in straight lines to represent the red stripes of the flag. Use dots of sweet potatoes to “glue” the tomatoes to the pasta.

10. Bake at 350 approximately 45 minutes.

Patriotic Potato Salad

Steam red skinned potatoes, blue potatoes, and white potatoes together until tender. Separate into three separate bowls. Chop and arrange on a platter or bowl to show off the red, white & blue theme. This potato salad is surrounded by turnip slices topped with sliced radishes. Drizzle your favorite dressing over the potatoes and enjoy.

Red, White & Blue Fruit Salad

Arrange fruits on a platter and have available for a refreshing snack. This platter has organic strawberries, cherries, blueberries, grapes, plums, and coconut.

Raw Fruit Tart 

This raw fruit tart has a crust made of prunes, dates, and dried cranberries with a teaspoon of cinnamon. Cover the dried fruit with hot water and let it sit for 10 minutes before draining. Add the cinnamon and mix well. Knead into a ball and press into the shape of your serving dish to form a thin layer of crust. Decorate with red, white, and blue fruits of your choice – we used banana slices, strawberries, cherries, and blueberries.

Note: chopped nuts, coconut, vanilla or other extract, different dried fruits can be added to the crust.

To create your own recipes using the colors of our flag, here are some examples of whole foods that are fun to experiment with.

Red foods

  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Red skinned potatoes
  • Red peppers
  • Radicchio

White foods

  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini
  • Parsnips
  • Bananas
  • Jicama
  • Zucchini strips
  • Lasagna noodles
  • White beans
  • White bread
  • White cabbage
  • White potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut
  • White star shaped edible flowers

Blue foods

  • Purple potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Grapes
  • Plums
  • Purple cabbage
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blue cornmeal

“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.” 

– Thomas Jefferson

ENJOY!

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