This Independence Day, many Americans will be feeling less independent than usual, as the COVID-19 pandemic has impinged on some of our freedoms.
And though we may not be celebrating with all the friends and family we normally would see on this holiday, we can still celebrate with food.
Readers queried on my Facebook page shared some of the ways they plan to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Mary Lacklen of Greensboro, the former chef and owner of Bert’s Seafood, shared her mother’s recipe for red beet eggs.
Her mother passed away just last week at age 93, and that perhaps had Lacklen in a nostalgic mood. Her family comes from Amish country around Lancaster, Pa. Red beet eggs, Lacklen said, was a staple of her childhood. “In Lancaster, there were a lot of Amish farms, and my father kept horses there. He raised horses for harness raising. We used to go to the Amish farms on Sundays, and you had to bring something — a bowl of red beet eggs was a standard thing to bring. It was always a winner.”
Red beet eggs start with pickled beets. “We always had red beets in the refrigerator. It was kind of a staple. We would have the beets, and we would just pop the eggs in there and wait a little bit.”
It doesn’t take long for outer layer of the hard-cooked eggs to turn purple. “They’re kind of cool because they turn color. And they make beautiful deviled eggs,” Lacklen said.
The only trick to making these is to be sure not to leave the eggs in the pickling juice for more than a few hours or else the whites start to turn rubbery.
Lacklen said she probably would have a potluck for friends this weekend if it was a normal year. “I love potlucks. Everybody brings their favorite dish, and they have such pride in it.”
Small gatherings are possible this weekend, with precautions. Consider an outdoor picnic where each family can keep to their own picnic table or blanket 6 or more feet apart from one another.
Jennifer Rotenizer, a former Journal photographer, shared a light picnic dish that can work as a side or main dish. The recipe, from Food Network host Ina Garten, is for a Mediterranean-inspired pasta salad with shrimp, cucumber, dill and feta cheese. The salad uses orzo, or rice-shaped pasta, and is tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.
“It’s very refreshing, especially on a hot summer day, and easy to make,” Rotenizer said.
For someone looking for something hot, meaty and more substantial, Cathy Hollinger Schaeffer of Arcadia offered a recipe for baked beans she has been using for more than 30 years — out of a cookbook she got as a wedding present in 1986.
Like Lacklen, Schaeffer is originally from Pennsylvania.
“There is a church there in Amish country called German Baptist Brethren, and when I got married a beloved coworker gave me their church cookbook,” she said. “Now it’s all worn with splatters,” she said.
Schaeffer often uses a combination of beans — often a couple cans of baked beans plus a couple cans of plain beans — in this recipe, along with plenty of bacon and ground beef. It’s enough to make a meal out of it. In fact, her family eats it as a main dish in a bowl just as she does with chili, even loading on just garnishes as sour cream, sliced jalapeno, avocado, red onion, shredded Cheddar and crushed tortilla chips.
Schaeffer that her usual July Fourth celebration is a big clambake for about 20 friends and family members. This year, it will be just for family, but she still plans to serve the same menu as long as she can get fresh clams. In addition to clams and baked beans, she also likes to serve German potato salad. “That’s another one that uses a lot of bacon and vinegar,” she said with a laugh.
For a cool, refreshing dessert, local realtor Jayne Russell suggested icebox pie, a sweet that she has loved since she was a little girl growing up in Morganton. “My mom would take me to the five and dime, and I would always order that,” she said.
By the time she was a teenager, she had learned how to make it herself.
“In college, it was something I could make in the dorm because you didn’t need an oven,” she said.
Russell said that her lemon icebox pie is similar to Key lime pie, and that there are several different ways of making it.
Hers is a no-bake version. So instead of using egg yolks that must cook to allow the pie filling to set, her pie uses cream cheese beaten with lemon juice and sweetened condensed milk. Once chilled, the cream cheese holds the pie to together, creating a soft and silky texture.
The pie features a graham-cracker crust, either homemade or store-bought. It also has a whipped topping. This can be either a nondairy version, such as Cool Whip, or real whipped cream. And it can be spread in a layer over the entire pie, or added a dollop at a time to each slice. Russell recommends Cool Whip if you have to make the pie ahead of time to take to an outdoor picnic. Whipped cream is rich and tasty, but is best added just before serving.
These are just a few of the more than a dozen summer recipes that readers recently shared. Thanks to everyone who sent in a recipe. Look for more recipes to appear in my weekly Recipe Swap columns.
Happy Fourth of July!