A roaring grill and an icy brew are almost as integral to July Fourth as fireworks. But today’s burgers and beers affairs bear little resemblance to the buffet served during our nation’s first Independence Day.
America declared itself a sovereign nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Celebrations followed almost immediately, but on the first anniversary — when the new nation was embroiled in fighting to establish the freedom it had so boldly declared — the Continental Congress decided to put on a good face with a full-on party.
That first Fourth of July is believed to have taken place at City Tavern, the Philadelphia public house that hosted many a gathering of the founding fathers. Tavern chef Walter Staib says the menu likely would have been based on the recipes of British culinary authority Hannah Glasse, whose book “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” dictates not only every dish of the three-course dinner, but where it should be placed on the table.
Glasse’s July menu suggests the signers of the Declaration would have supped on roast turkey and fricasseed rabbit, pigeon, crawfish and lobsters. There would have been tongue and turnips and lamb testicles. And for dessert, apricot tarts and roasted apples, plums, jellies and custards.
Because Philadelphia was a major port, the meal likely also would have included delicacies from abroad, Staib says. Limes from the West Indies were used for lime curd. Exotic fruit such as mangoes, pineapples and coconuts might have been available, as well as spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and vanilla. Plus, there was local seafood, such as salmon, sturgeon and oysters.
“Think of McDonald’s,” Staib says. “This was oysters in Philadelphia. They were fried in cornmeal, poached, they were everywhere. Some of the largest oyster banks were right here in the Delaware (River).”