Barbecues, hamburgers, picnics and hot dogs — that’s what comes to mind when most people think of dining on the Fourth of July. While meat on the grill might be the star, sides and desserts can help complete the day of patriotic revelry.
Plus, making a meal with a number of smaller dishes and desserts helps facilitate the flow of eating for a day-long party, says Chelsey Erickson, chef/owner of Finesse Pastries in Manchester.
“I like to have a little bit of everything, get a taste of everything and get a variety,” she said, “instead of having one gigantic thing and kind of being full on that.”
Go red, white and blue (without going color crazy)
Bruce Walters, chef/owner of The Black Forest Cafe in Amherst, said a quick and easy way to make any dessert patriotic is with blueberries and strawberries.
“We have fresh fruit tarts with strawberries and blueberries and we’ll cut out white chocolate stars to go with it,” he said in a phone interview.
Denise Nickerson, owner of The Bakeshop on Kelley Street in Manchester, agrees that colorful fruit makes a festive treat, such as putting blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries on a star-shaped puff pastry with whipped cream.
“Find inspiration in everyday treats,” she said in a phone interview. “Just [change] it a bit to go with the Fourth of July theme.”
She likes to decorate cookies with mini hot dogs and hamburgers made of icing, top eclairs with sprinkles or dip strawberries in white chocolate and then blue sanding sugar.
Another easy option for adding a pop of color anywhere is food coloring.
Erickson makes a red, white and blue macaron (a vanilla bean ganache inside with one red shell and one blue shell) along with layered berry dishes. She said a little drop of food coloring can go a long way. Use it in the filling of a cream puff or for a bowl of whipped cream to top ice cream.
“Anything that has whipped cream in it, just throw a blob of red [or blue] food coloring and it’s Fourth of July,” she said.
Although colors can be fun, making everything red, white or blue isn’t the only way to incorporate a patriotic theme into a meal. Walters suggests using classic American flavors to go along with the theme of the day, such as making s’mores or even a batch of s’mores brownies.
“That’s classic American, campfire picnic [dessert] without having to beat people over the head with red, white and blue,” he said.
Prepare for the heat and humidity
One thing to keep in mind for an outdoor meal in July is the inevitable heat and humidity. Do your best to plan for desserts and dishes that won’t fall apart in the heat.
“Basically you just want to keep it super light,” Erickson said. “You’re eating a ton of food anyway, it’s hot out, [so] nothing heavy.”
Stay away from overly creamy dishes that will melt or spoil, she said, going instead with a plate of watermelon or an array of cookies. They’ll last the whole day and “you don’t have to worry about getting anybody sick or something just completely melting,” she said.
Opt for cold or chilled sides, like cucumber salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, marinated vegetables, sliced tomato topped with basil and corn on the cob with flavored butters.
For a finger food to munch on throughout the day, Walters suggested pimiento cheese, a staple item in the South made of cheddar cheese, cream cheese and roasted red pepper. Use it as a spread for crackers or as the topping for a burger.
“I think for finger foods … I like easy things like dips,” he said.
All it takes is a box of crackers and sliced vegetables to pair with guacamole or hummus.
In general, think of dishes that are simple to make, eat and transport.
“If we’re taking something to the beach or a cookout, you want something easy to transport [that doesn’t require] a lot of last-minute attention,” Walters said.
Whichever dishes you decide to dole out, try serving the food in waves to ensure freshness.
“Growing up we would definitely do waves of food too because you’d eat a bunch and you’d be full,” Erickson said. “If you put it all out at once and it doesn't get eaten, in a couple hours everybody’s like, ‘We’re hungry again!’ so we come out with more food.”