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July 4th Favorite Side Dish

I love the 4th of July.

Not because I am especially patriotic, although a good song like America the Beautiful will make the tears well up, but because of all the FOOD and the fun family time I remember from my childhood.

I have memories from when I was little of one particular 4th of July. As I think about it, it seemed idyllic bordering on Norman Rockwell. Our families lived in something of a neighborhood “compound”. There were 3 sisters, my mom, Aunt Irene, and Aunt Mildred, and then my grandparents moved in from the farm, so Grandma Grace and Grandpa Claude and the aunts and uncles lived in 3 houses in a row on one street. And we lived in the house behind them. The lots and yards were very large (at least to me) and they were all adjoined by chain-link fences. I’m not sure if wooden fences were popular back then because I only remember chain links. In retrospect, I think we had those so everyone could be in everyone else’s business.

Anyway, I remember one 4th of July when every family member gathered at my Aunt Irene’s and Uncle Herman’s house (their house was in the middle and Irene happened to be the middle sister). It was the end of the 1950’s so imagine all the men in slacks and shirts and the women in dresses outside in the Oklahoma summer heat having a cookout. “Hotter than a firecracker” is one way to describe July in Oklahoma but it doesn’t quite capture the sweltering humidity. Why they thought this was fun, I have no idea, but the kids had a great time. We didn’t have the constraints of grown-up clothes, so shorts and swimsuits were de rigueur. Also, someone would drag out the kiddie pool with the hose and the croquet set so the games were on.

Beyond that, I remember a grill full of hot dogs and hamburgers and then the giant hand-cranked ice cream maker. It was almost as big as me and the men would sit it on the back stoop and load it with rock salt and ice as they took turns cranking the giant wooden bucket. It seemed like hours until we could have ice cream, vanilla, of course because the freezing had to finish in the “ice box”. In the meantime, the rest of the meal was loaded onto picnic tables, and everyone dove in. To say it was a groaning board was an understatement.

Platters stacked with burger upon burger, hot dogs lined up on another plate with warm buns ready for both. And then there were the sides. Baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, cucumbers and onions, wilted lettuce salad, and corn on the cob. Fourth of July weekend was when the Silver King white corn would be harvested, and it was a legendary sweet corn. I don’t think they grow that variety anymore, and I don’t know why. Too bad. I remember it being delicious. The kind of corn that you roast or boil just until it’s done, slather it with butter, salt, and pepper, and then eat it off the cob as fast as you can. Butter rolling down your chin and all over your cheeks as you sucked up every kernel.

Then there were the fruit salads, 2 or 3 Jello salads (Jello was all the rage), and that gross salad with apples, walnuts, and mayonnaise alongside thick slices of bright red, Big Boy tomatoes from my grandpa’s garden, canned pickles from the latest crop of cucumbers, and slices of red onions and hunks of iceberg lettuce to finish the hamburgers.

Finally, everyone would find a spot on the lawn or at the table to eat and wait for the ice cream to finish freezing. It wasn’t yet dark so too early for fireworks. This was long before there were firework displays to watch. Nope. You went to the firecracker stand on the corner and bought bottle rockets, Roman candles, “fountains”, Black Cats and cherry bombs then sparklers, and those things that turned into ash worms for the kids (because they were “safe”). But we had to wait until it was dark.

That meant, time for ice cream! The main food dishes were cleared and the steel canister full of fresh vanilla ice cream was placed on the picnic table. Bowls of sliced strawberries, bananas, and blueberries were filled to overflowing. Chocolate and butterscotch syrups stood by along with chopped nuts. The ice cream was dished up, and everyone grabbed a bowl and created their own masterpiece that was gone in the blink of an eye.

Now, fireworks time! I have always loved fireworks. I don’t want to set them off. I want to watch their magic in the sky. I like the “oohs” and “aahs”. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of sky magic going on. It was mostly watching kids drawing circles in the air with sparklers and the occasional “hold my beer moment” where one of the uncles would grab a Roman candle, light it, and hold it as it shot into the sky. At least, you hoped that would happen. But it was fun to watch. I didn’t care much for sparklers because as they burnt down, the sparks would burn your skin. My mom always warned me they could explode and put your eye out. Childhood in the 1950s was dangerous in different ways.

The holiday ended with no serious injuries, and we got to stay up and watch the grown-ups shoot off fireworks. I know there were many more July 4th celebrations at our house and other relatives but that is the one I remember the most.

I think the point of this stroll down Memory Lane was to lead me to my five favorite 4th of July side dishes. It was a very long walk.

When I was a kid, I wouldn’t eat anything. Seriously. I wanted a hot dog with mustard only and ice cream, lots of ice cream with chocolate syrup. I was a purist. What can I say?

But now, there are so many sides I love. I’m going to say that my favorite is one I don’t make very often. I guess I forget about it but man, it is good. Baked beans with bacon over the top. Makes my mouth water just to think about it.

July 4th Favorite Sides

  • Corn on the Cob

  • Coleslaw

  • Cucumbers & Onion

  • Wilted Lettuce Salad

  • Black Bean Pineapple Salad

  • Baked Beans

So since baked beans are my fave. Here’s the recipe while I’m thinking about it. Enjoy and Have a Happy and Safe Independence Day!

Picnic Baked Beans

Makes one, 8 x 8 casserole dish

  • 2- 15.5 oz cans, cannellini beans, drained but not rinsed

  • ¼ cup ketchup

  • ¼ cup brown sugar

  • 2 – 3 green onions, thinly sliced

  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped

  • 1 tsp garlic powder

  • 4 – 5 slices smoked bacon

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients and stir gently to combine. Pour into a greased 8 x

  3. 8 casserole dish. Top with bacon slices.

  4. Place in preheated oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes or until the bacon is browned around the edges

  5. and the beans are hot and bubbly.

  6. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve.


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