Let’s come to the table and have a good ol’ non-partisan Memorial Day picnic! My contribution is a blending of the regional cuisines from Maine to Mississippi.
Southern comfort starts with a tall, icy glass of Alabama sweet tea, a classic Mint Julep or a tumbler of Swamp Water mixing apricot brandy, lime vodka and lemonade. Northerners whet their whistles with handcrafted brewskis and cocktails, iced teas and lemonades sweetened with seasonal simple syrups, such as blood orange and elderflower.
Now for the vittles
If Paula Dean met Bobby Flay and Julia Child, this is what you might get: Start with the BBQ sauce: make it Champagne vinegar, tomato- or Dijon mustard-based, or a combo thereof. Next comes pulled pork, mutton or shredded chicken smoked with sassafras and hickory, smothered in caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and fried green heirloom tomatoes on a seedy baguette. Consider braised buffalo ribs with a side of tart apple and red cabbage slaw. Or how about a plate of soul spaghetti: a casserole of dishrag noodles, tomatoes, and ground, grass-fed sirloin. Or a burger swabbed in mustard and gin sauce. Or deep-fried paprika-spiced chicken enveloped in flaky puff pastry with braised mustard greens in Grand Marnier sauce.
For your just desserts
Southern belles will serve a peach crème brulee, pecan and bittersweet chocolate pie with Amaretto whipped cream, and banana pudding with raspberry drizzle.
Flowing northward along the Mississippi River
(If that’s possible), northerners would contribute a whole different kettle of fish to a Memorial Day feast. Think Clambake on the beach, a culinary project everyone can pitch in to complete, especially for the assemblage of ingredients including lobster, ears of corn, clams (little neck or soft shell), blue mussels, bliss potatoes and onions. Don’t forget drawn butter and tools of the trade – cracking pliers, narrow forks and bibs.
Clam “chowdah” comes in three versions – New England with a cream base, Rhode Island a clear broth, and Manhattan a tomato-based broth. Cod is big in these parts. Try it grilled, poached or served fajita or taco-style. Traditional Boston Baked Beans can be jazzed-up with crumbled applewood bacon and a splash of sherry.
For sweet endings, apples (especially Lady and Pippin), cranberries and maple syrup are the raw materials for great northern desserts. Try baked apples drenched in cinnamon and maple syrup, apple cranberry cobblers or maple fudge.
Some authentic Civil War treats included, Hospital Gingerbread served to lift the spirits of wounded solders, applesauce cookies, Lincoln cake, and an “Idiot’s Delight” even a neophyte cook couldn’t spoil — a deep-dish of dumplings floating in rich cinnamon-raisin sauce.
This Memorial Day, like the Biden’s, who are honoring the troops with a patriotic shindig at their home, open yours for a feast celebrating the hospitality of the south and single-pot colonel cookery of the north.
1 head cabbage, finely shredded
1 bell pepper, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, grated
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, grated
3/4 cup brown sugar (adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
In a large mixing bowl, combine the veggies and apple. In a saucepan on low, combine the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil. Simmer until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Toss over slaw, cover and chill.
Northern-style Roasted Corn
12 ears corn, husks remaining
1/4 cup softened butter, equal parts olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or herb of choice
Prepare gas grill with cover closed. Remove the outer husks, leaving the inner ones. Peel back, removing the silks. In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, and brush on the kernels. Cover the cobs with the husks, place on the fire, turning frequently until tender, about 8 minutes. Discard husks and serve with extra oil mixture.