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Food Timeline gives glimpse into Fourth of July traditions

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Category: research Video duration: Food Timeline gives glimpse into Fourth of July traditions
Burgers and hotdogs weren't always on the menu for Independence Day cookouts. Special Collections and University Archives' Food Timeline delves into the history of Fourth of July food traditions. 
My name is Kira Dietz. I am the Assistant Director of Special Collections and University Archives. One of the areas that we are particularly interested in collecting history is food and drink. And so as part of that, in 2020, we received the food timeline as a donation. And along with that, the about 2200 books that came from though websites creator and owner. The focus of the site has mostly been around North American food traditions and American food tradition. So for us, in the United States, the fourth of July is a major holiday. It relates to the birth of this country as we conceptualize it. And so taking a look at what those food traditions are and exploring them was just something I think she was really interested in getting into. One of the things that surprised me is like how early people started using this as like a picnic holiday. Pretty quickly, it becomes this outdoor of all because we go out and we picnic and we swim in lakes, or we have fireworks, or we have bonfires. So that like element of eating outside, like almost immediately becomes the focus of Fourth of July. As much as picnicking and being outside has been a tradition. Everything else goes out the window. We don't really start seeing like hotdog being cooked or weenie roasts or things like that until the early part of the 20th century, which leaves us like, you know, a lot of time that's wide open. So what were people doing? Well, they were eating completely different things. And there's a real regionality to this too that I had never really explored before. So like the surprise item for me is I kept seeing menus that mentioned salmon. Who thinks I'm going to cook an entire salmon and like have salmon fillets at my outdoor picnic for the 4th of July. We may not think that today, but that was happening a 150 years ago or 200 years ago. But then there are things you kind of expect to see that, that sort of surface throughout. So as early as the 1790's, there was a woman who developed a cake recipe called independence cake, which is exactly what you might think. It was to celebrate the independence. It has sort of fallen by the wayside now. I don't know that I've ever had one or than anybody has ever made me an independence cake. But we do still have cake in some form. And part of that is like, cake has evolved, tastes have evolved. And now we get layer cakes that are sweeter or cakes that we cover with berries and cool whip that maybe they didn't have. So it's just that evolution of the way we create ingredients has changed over time, but we still see some of those roots. But in the 19th century there was a lot of this emphasis on like cold chicken or cold beef or cold something, a lobster or chicken salad and things like that. I think what we think of modern traditions are definitely like the hamburger and hot dog thing, probably around the early 20th century that we start to see that shift. And part of it would probably be due to like economic factors. They ease of which mass production was picking up to speed. So things didn't take as long to make. They weren't being done by hand, especially is like mechanical processes came on the rise. And then particularly like we talked about barbecuing and there were these concepts of like barbecuing an entire pig or something which date back to the 19th century. But grilling as like an American practice, like going out and lighting your charcoal grill is much more like a mid-twentieth century boom. So that's like when we start the tradition of like going out and grilling in the backyard and then I think that just sort of naturally tied into July fourth.