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Volume 40 Issue 9 • July 1 - 7, 2010
now in our 40th season

Fourth of July

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

In my family the Fourth of July is a big event.  It was one of the only days of the year we all would have the day off, and get together.  Of course we would be a part of all the community events, and parades, but the evening potluck, barbeque, and ensuing fireworks was the highlight. 

Back in the 1970s fireworks were a not illegal in many places like they are now, so everyone had their own display.  It was a little like keeping up with the Joneses, neighbors trying to outdo each other.  In our neighborhood, there was a lot of corn and other highly flammable crops, so my wise neighbors would bring their fireworks to one farm, reducing the chance of several fires.   I knew the holiday was near when my grandfather would mysteriously disappear one afternoon in my grandmother’s Oldsmobile.  The “Ols” was reserved for Church and the occasional road trip or to take care of “official” business.  Grandfather was almost never allowed to drive it.   When he returned the trunk was loaded with boxes of every kind of explosive he could find.  Snakes and sparklers for the kids, bottle rockets for the teens and every style of buzzing, soaring, booming, rockets and firecrackers for the “adults.”  Looking back it was a lot of firecrackers — ‘70s cars had gigantic trunks. 

My grandfather always had a cigarette in his mouth, and was admittedly accident prone.  He was responsible for several incidents that had occurred on our little dairy farm, so it is no surprise that my Grandmother bristled when the Fourth was mentioned.

In retrospect, so many variables were responsible for the explosion, but I will get to that in a minute.    It started out like any other hot summer day.   The sun rose over humid fields, and I was anxious to get up and enjoy all the parades and festivities that the Fourth had to offer.   We would always eat at the fire station for the annual pancake breakfast fundraiser.  The food there was always exceptional.  I have always wondered why firemen are such amazing chefs, but that is a story for another day.  They would cook perfectly fluffy pancakes, caramelized sausage, crispy bacon, and light eggs, it was a treat.  After breakfast we would visit the booths and carnival games.   While their kids were occupied the adults would set up food stands for church, school, and other local charity fundraising.  The food at these tables was so good and filled with local specialties.  The ladies in my community are very passive aggressive, which comes out competitively in their cooking.   Not too healthy for friendships, but the rest of us would reap the benefits by eating the finest they could cook.  I would seek out light and airy kolaches, perfect chicken with dumplings, turkey and freshly made noodles, and homemade sauerkraut with locally made sausages.   Then there was the cake walk, a musical chairs game where the winner takes the cake!  Pie eating and watermelon eating contests followed.  

Little elderly ladies would sit on their front stoop in their finest summer shift, selling prefect tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and other freshly picked vegetables.   My favorite was a lady who sold lemonade and iced tea, I don’t know what she added to the tea, but it was so refreshing, one glass was never enough.   She also made little pastries filled with cream cheese and fresh strawberries and rhubarb; I could eat a whole plate of them right now. 

We would then return home, to relax for a short time while the barbeque coals got hot enough.  My kiddie pool was usually transformed into a beverage cooler.  Everyone showed up with their favorite salad or side dish.  Watermelon wedges were handed out and we kids were expected to stay out of the adults’ way for a few short hours.  There was always fresh salads made from ripe veggies.  Excitement was admittedly building for the grand finale, fireworks. 

Eight Layer Salad

  • 1 pound bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1 large ripe tomatoes, small diced
  • 1 head of Romaine or iceberg other preferred lettuce, chopped or hand shredded
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup and a half fresh peas, blanched (frozen may be substituted)
  • 10 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup chopped cauliflower

Dressing: 

  • 3/ 4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1-2 tablespoons buttermilk (optional)
  • 2 chopped scallions

Cook bacon until crispy and brown.  Drain and chop or crumble, set aside.    In a large shallow bowl (clear glass looks pretty) make a layer with the chopped lettuce.  Continue to make layers with onion, peas, shredded cheddar, cauliflower, bacon.  Prepare dressing by mixing all ingredients except scallions.  Pour the dressing over as one layer, then garnish with sliced, green scallions.  Refrigerate until well chilled.  Serves 12.

After the BBQ, my Grandfather and uncles on the aforementioned fateful night decided to put all their eggs in one basket- or fireworks in one very large box.    I believe this was mistake number one. 

The following details of the night are very hazy.  I was young and cannot recall EXACTLY what happened.  Every person in my family tells their own version.    I believe a bottle rocket was the catalyst, but would not be surprised if a stray cigarette or rogue firecracker was the real culprit.  As I remember it there was a lot of shouting, to keep “it” away from the box.  Then there was a crack and a flash.  My mother grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and tossed me behind the raised entrance to the root cellar.  I remember mayhem, people running in different directions.  The noise of whistling, screeching and booming fireworks was punctuated by squealing adults.  The flashes and cracking in the air was constant for the span of a several minutes, and then, a brief silence.   THE boom came next, with more whistling, and a flash of light.  Clods of dirt and sod flew into the air, covering everyone with a fine dust.  Eventually the noise stopped and small fires dotted the dry grass.  My Uncles cautiously came from hiding, and stomped at the grass.  It looked like a war zone. 

Grandfather ceremoniously dumped a five gallon bucket of water on the spot where the giant box of fireworks had once been.  It  stirried up a mess of black ashes and smoke, as it hissed out.   

Everyone silently got into their cars and went home.  My mother cursed when we got into the house (I don’t think she had ever sworn before that moment!).  I looked in the mirror.  In addition to the sticky melon and other foods all over me, there was a thick coating of dirt and lots of black ashes and soot.

We didn’t actually see all the real damage until the following day.  There was singed grass everywhere and a rather large, black crater with a few paper wrappers and pieces of cardboard where the box of fireworks had once stood.  Thankfully no one was seriously hurt.

Zucchini Brownies

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • One half cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • One half teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • One half cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • One half cup zucchini, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all dry ingredients well, add remaining ingredients, and stir until incorporated, try not to over mix.  Bake for 25-35 minutes at 350 degrees.

 

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