As Independence Day draws near, many people are reaching for their favorite feel-good holiday foods.
Hot dogs and hamburgers, fresh from the grill, seem to taste best at the moment the sizzling meat lands on a cool bun. And whether you’re following your grandmother’s go-to recipe or opening a can or two of a favorite comfort-food brand, baked beans go with everything on your picnic table.
Luscious summer fruits beckon, especially the ones we usually only eat outdoors because they’re so delightfully messy; many families will resume the annual debate over whether or not to sprinkle salt on thick slices of watermelon to intensify already legendary juiciness. And it’s a safe bet that someone you know is trying to figure out a way to create a new red-white-and-blue dessert with strawberries and blueberries.
Celebrating the Fourth of July in the midst of a pandemic presents new challenges for this year’s party planners. If you’re venturing out, you’re probably thinking that melons and masks won’t mix. If you’re staying home, you’re likely wondering how to turn the virtual happy hours you’ve been enjoying with your work buddies into a remote American birthday party.
Either scenario can be complicated by a pandemic nemesis we didn’t have to battle this time last summer: the empty shelves where your favorite holiday staples are supposed to be.
If the food that most represents the Fourth of July to you isn’t at the grocery store this year, don’t despair. The holiday is not ruined. American cuisine is wide and expansive, and if one of your favorite menu items can’t be found this year, try marking the nation’s birthday by substituting another food that hails from North, Central or South America.
No ground beef? Try bison
The lean, protein-packed red meat is available from Virginia purveyors, including Cibola Farms in Culpeper. Its nutritional profile scores well for zinc, selenium and iron, as well as vitamins B6, B12 and niacin.
If you’re substituting bison burgers for the beef patties you usually buy, keep a close eye on them while they’re on the grill; you may need to adjust your cooking times to account for the lower fat content.
Black bean salad
The selections on the canned bean shelves have ebbed and flowed since March, so if you don’t see your favorite variety of baked beans, try something different. Look for black beans, which hail from Central and South America.
Drain them well. Season a few ears of fresh corn with smoked paprika and chili powder, brush some seeded red bell pepper halves with olive oil and grill them. Chop the roasted red peppers, slice the hot kernels off the corncobs and mix them with the black beans. Add cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.
All-American red and blue
Cranberries bring a New England pedigree, cheerful red hue and refreshing tartness to summer desserts and drinks. If you associate cranberries only with Thanksgiving leftovers and Christmas dinners, try a frosty glass of cranberry lemonade at your cookout, or add cranberry juice to the wine in your favorite sangria recipe.
Dried cranberries can add flavor and color to dessert bars. And if you can’t resist those old-school, fresh-from-the-fridge pies made from fruit-flavored gelatin and nondairy whipped topping, try cranberry gelatin or mix cranberry with raspberry.
If you enjoy the interplay of sweet and tart, top that pie with fresh blueberries, which also are native to North America. For tasty table favors, fill foil cups with an upgraded trail mix of dried cranberries, dried blueberries and white chocolate chips.
If you’re having a quiet celebration indoors this year, skip the grill and heat up the literal melting pot — fondue. Yes, it’s French, but so’s the Statue of Liberty. Online recipes abound for decadent cheese fondues for swirling fresh veggie chunks and bread cubes while you watch the rockets’ red glare on the small screen. Offer a birthday toast with a glass of your favorite red or white Virginia wine.