Ask Rufus: Food for the Fourth


Fourth of July menu

Fourth of July menu Photo by: Courtesy Graphic


Rufus Ward



Picnics and food have long been associated with the celebration of the Fourth of July. What food is popular, though, has changed with the times. A 1902 suggestion for foods to be served on a summer picnic included "cold pigeon pie" and "jellied veal."


I remember talking to an elderly African American some 30 years ago who recalled from his child-hood that on the Fourth of July the tenants on the Hardy place near Artesia would prepare in a huge iron kettle a burgoo. I had never heard of a burgoo and asked what it was. He described to me a Brunswick stew that had been cooked into an unidentifiable mush.


Being curious of the origins of such a stew, I found its history in B.A. Botkin''s "Treasury of Southern Folklore." It was originally an oatmeal porridge in England, but in Kentucky it became a strange type of stew. Burgoo was described by Botkin as "something that was neither liquid nor solid, neither soup, hash, nor goulash, but partook of the nature of all of these."



A friend just brought me a delicious pot of gumbo, which brings to mind how it has changed. In an 1825 Billups family cookbook from Columbus, there is a recipe for gumbo. It is called "Gumbo -- A West Indian Dish." The recipe is simple:


"Gather young pods of ochra, wash them clean, and put them in a pan with a little water, salt and pepper, stew them till tender, and serve them with melted butter. They are very nutricious and easy digestion."


I must say that today''s gumbo is a much better dish.


"The Modern Housewife or Menagere,"which was written in 1848, gives directions for making sandwiches.


"Sandwiches -- In making a large quanity, a stale quarter loaf should be taken and trimmed free from all crust, and cut into slices the eighth of an inch in thickness, slightly buttered, and then thin slices of meat, nicely trimmed, may be laid on and covered with another slice of bread ... -- a little mustard and salt may be added to the meat if preferred."


One thing has not changed and that is the association of ice cream and Fourth of July celebrations. An 1873 cookbook provides recipes for vanilla, pineapple, lemon, strawberry, peach, chocolate, almond and maraschino ice creams.



Vanilla Ice Cream


1 gal. fresh rich cream


1 3/4 lbs. white sugar


2 vanilla beans, cut fine and boiled in milk



Strain into a can and put into a tub. Put about a peck of ice, broken, and 2 or 3 handfuls of salt around it, and so on, until the tub is full enough. If it does not freeze fast enough, put a little more salt around it. When it is frozen put the paddle in the cream and beat it until it gets light and smooth. If you beat it too much it will get rough. Scrape the cream down often while it is freezing.



Yes, there was ice in Mississippi during the summers of 150 years ago. It was brought by ship from New England to Mobile during the winter. Then it was carried by steamboat to Columbus, Aberdeen and other river towns, where it was stored in straw-lined deep pits called ice houses.



Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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