The Fourth of July is next Monday. This weekend will be full of neighborhood barbecues and picnics. Are those words interchangable? Why are there two words that mean almost the same? According to Wikipedia:
Barbecue is a cooking method in which large pieces of meat are placed in a pit or special barbecue smoker to be cooked slowly at a moderate temperature in the hot exhaust of a wood fire. Barbecue as a social event grew out of battle festivals . Since barbecues were always outside, therefore in the public, they quickly became the center of neighborhood meetings, family celebrations and religious ceremonies. Since about 1800 big barbecue festivities began on the plantations in the southern states and quickly became social events.
In contemporary usage, a picnic can be defined simply as a pleasure excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors (al fresco or en plein air), ideally taking place in a beautiful landscape and usually occur in summer. Some picnics are a potluck, an entertainment at which each person contributed some dish to a common table for all to share. When the picnic is not also a cookout, the food eaten is rarely hot, instead taking the form of deli sandwiches, finger food, fresh fruit, salad, cold meats and accompanied by chilled wine or champagne or soft drinks.
Enough semantics, on to the Fourth of July picnic planning. Decorations can be as simple or as complex as the planner chooses; an old standby is red, white and blue bunting. It has a very classic and clean look, especially on an older Virginia Antebellum home. Choose a red or blue tablecloth and use complementary plates and napkins. White serving trays will complete the red, white and blue theme and will let your food shine on crisp, clean platters.
The menu can be simple or complex too. However here are some things to consider when planning your barbeque menu: budget, number of guests, culinary skill level, serving conditions and amount of time to prepare the meal. Allow me to expand on two of those items: first culinary skill; Not everyone is Julia Childs or Tyler Florance. I say this because I want this to be a great holiday for everyone and unsuccessful dishes are not fun and they can be costly. Serving conditions: consider where your event is taking place. In a field with no shade maybe the mayonnaise based potato salad is not the best choice. Consider a vinegar based German-style salad. This should not be the only determining factor in menu planning but let's face it we live in Virginia and it can be VERY HOT on July 4th.
A London broil that has been marinated and grilled is a nice menu item. It can be served cold and used to make sandwiches; a horseradish sauce is a nice compliment. Burgers are always great. A fun twist on the classic burger is to add a "surprise" item to the center. Fry and crumble bacon, mix it with shredded cheese, place the mixture in the center of the patties.
There are almost endless choices when it comes to side dishes. Recipes on FoodNetwork.com all state the technical level and give an estimated amount of time require to prepare. What to do for dessert? Jell-o cake of course, or "fancy" Jell-O cake if you follow this recipe. A simpler version is to prepare a boxed white cake, after it is cooked poke holes thought out it, pour red Jell-o over the cake, ice with Cool Whip and decorate with sliced strawberries and blueberries. The strawberries are the "stripes" and the blueberries are the "stars”.
The most important thing to remember about the Fourth of July and the picnics and or barbecues that take place to celebrate the holiday? Have fun, after all it is a celebration! Happy 4th of July!