On July 2, 1776, our Founding Fathers declared a legal separation from England. On July 4, 1776, the document explaining this move -- the Declaration of Independence – was approved.
Philadelphia was the first to celebrate the 4th one year later, and in 1778 George Washington celebrated the day by allotting his soldiers a double ration of rum. (Those were the days.) Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, in Paris, had a dinner for fellow Americans that same year. In 1781, Massachusetts recognized the day as a state celebration; in 1791, we have the first documented phrase “Independence Day.” In 1870, the United States Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees, and in 1938 same body made it a paid holiday.
If you like to read about food, you’ll notice that most food writers in print and on the web offer potato salad recipes for 4th of July gatherings. Epicurious lists 239 recipes (including Julia Child’s classic “American-Style Potato Salad”), and wikipedia.org provides readers with several variations of potato salad, including the somewhat lurid one with orange slices, Worcestershire sauce, bacon, and chives (upon reflection, it sounds sort of tasty). Obviously, you can throw just about anything into it. You can even go as crazy as the 1946 Joy of Cooking, which lists 15 ingredients besides potatoes. If you’re stumped for recipes, go to http://www.potatosalad.org/, which bills itself as “The Largest Potato Salad Website on Earth.”
Garrison Keillor wrote a marvelous piece last year, just about this time, called “It’s Time to Stand Up for Homemade Potato Salad.” This lyrical piece extols the virtues of homemade potato salad, largely a thing of the past.
The potato made its way to the Old World via the Spanish sometime in the 16th century; Arnold Shircliffe, a Chicago chef, traced the first recorded instance of potato salad in 1597. A man named John Gerrard wrote about ways to eat the potato, and one of them included salad. It appears, however, that potato salad only really caught on in the 19th century in the U.S. spread by German immigrants.
We make like Jefferson and Franklin, though we are not in Paris. A handful of American friends are coming to eat, drink, and salute (metaphorically) the Stars and Stripes. We’ll be joined by pals from Italy, Lebanon, Spain, and Russia. Naturally, we’ll be having potato salad. Onion dip (still undecided between a great recipe in the penultimate Joy of Cooking, and a very tasty-looking one at http://www.dailybeast.com/), guacamole, and devilled eggs to whet the appetite. Zoe’s Person aka California Babe brings her terrifically tasty taco pie; another friend brings ribs to throw on the grill. We’re also tossing hotdogs and burgers (both beef and turkey) amid the ribs, serving them with all sorts of condiments, including David Chang’s ridiculously simple and ultimately satisfying pickled vegetables. (Unfortunately, corn on the cob isn’t an option.) And probably bolted or just-about-ready-do-so mixed greens from the garden (it’s suddenly gotten insufferably hot here, as it always does this time of year). Dessert: mixed red and blue berries served atop vanilla ice cream, and s’mores.
Image our great pleasure when, this morning in an attempt to see What’s What, and Expecting Very Little if Anything at All, the Scallion turned over what looked to be a dead potato plant (many rows carefully planted a while ago; too much rain, too little flowering, dashed hopes) to turn up – from the half spud planted: nine potatoes. Which means that this year’s 4th of July potato salad comes from our back yard.
There won’t be any fireworks. They happen in Florence on their feast day of St. John the Baptist (June 24th). If you want fireworks on the 4th of July, and you’re in Tuscany, head to Camp Darby, a U.S. military base near Pisa. They send them off from the beach.
This potato salad was inspired by a cicheto (little snack) at già Schiavi in Venice. The
combination of ingredients might be somewhat alarming, but trust me, it works. Their cicheto’s served on a toothpick, and potatoes are not present. Nor are onions. Nor are jalapenos. Nor is the vinaigrette. Whatever. I said ‘inspired,’ right?
Potato salad with gorgonzola, mortadella, and jalapenos
4 lbs. potatoes
1 whole red onion, peeled, thinly sliced into crescent moons
1 lb. mortadella, thinly sliced
1 lb. gorgonzola piccante (or other sturdy blue cheese that crumbles easily)
2 c. walnuts, toasted lightly and coarsely chopped
2-3 jalapenos, seeded if you feel like it, chopped
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
½ c. red-wine vinegar
1 T. lemon juice
1½ T. Dijon mustard
Cook the potatoes in boiling water, let cool, peel.
In a big bowl, combine the mortadella, gorgonzola, walnuts, and jalapenos.
Make the vinaigrette, pour over the salad, and toss gently to combine. Taste for salt and pepper, which it probably will need. If it seems dry, add more olive oil and vinegar increments.
Should serve about 10. Don’t worry about it sitting out in the sun. There’s no mayonnaise in this.
“ … and is this not the meaning of our beautiful country, to take what is common and make it beautiful?” This from Garrison Keillor’s piece about potato salad.
If you can, play X singing “4th of July” really loud sometime during the course of the day. Or Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”
To re-read the Declaration of Independence, go to http://www.earlyamerica.com/
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!
 All of these factoids come from http://www.wikipedia.org/, “Independence Day.”
 You can find it at www.salon.com.
 This from http://www.foodtimeline.org/; the recipe appears in the Edgewater Beach Hotel Salad Book, Evanston, 1928.
 Not North American at all, obviously. The origin of the word is Aztec (ahuacatl), and Spanish conquistadors turned it into aguacate, somehow tagging the Mexican word “mole” (sauce) on to it. The Aztec translates ahuacatl as “testicle tree” (see http://www.wisegeek.com/). But http://www.mexicofile.com/ insists that that Aztecs were already calling it ahuacamolli. Wiki reports that the Aztecs were making guacamole as early as the 15th century, and tells us that National Guacamole Day in the United States is September 16. Or perhaps November 15.
 Not American at all. They ate them in ancient Rome. Wikipedia.org (“devilled eggs”) reveals that they were “first in use in the 18th century … in the 19th century, it came to be used most often with spicy or zesty food … in some parts of the Southern and Midwestern United States, the term “salad eggs” or “dressed eggs” are used particularly when the dish is served in connection with a church function, presumably to avoid dignifying the word ‘deviled’.” Can such a thing be true? The Wikipedia entry also remarks upon the following: “Prepared and packaged deviled eggs are now available in some U.S. supermarkets.” If you’ve read Garrison Keillor’s marvelous piece, you’ll hear him roaring.
 No point in discussing the origins of these, as the Chinese – I’m sure – have been doing this for millennia.
 David Chang and Peter Meehan, Momofuku, New York, 2009.
 Which is an elision of “some more.” http://www.slashfood.com/ reports that campers developed this dish in the early part of the last century; the first recipe appears in a Girl Scout Handbook from 1927.
 At 10 pm on the 4th, a “Fantastic Fireworks Display.” http://www.usag.livorno.army/. Camp Darby “stores and maintains prepositioned equipment and vehicles” according to http://www.globalsecurity.org/, and is named for Brigadier General William O. Darby, who was killed in action in northeastern Italy on April 30, 1945.