Your July 4 Picnic Is Sorted, Thanks To Books

The Fourth of July is coming up this weekend, which is obviously a great time to celebrate the U.S.A.’s independence, but more importantly than that — it’s a time to eat really really good food. Traditionally, July 4 is the day to fire up the barbecue and get grilling, but that’s not the only way to get patriotic (especially if you don’t want to run into any of these clichéd characters).

This Independence Day, I suggest all you book-lovers grab a red, white, and blue picnic rug and head to the park. Pack this pile of holiday reading and a hamper of literary-inspired goodies, and you’re in for one hell of a Fourth of July.

Books about food are usually full of sophisticated French feasts or Italian banquets, which are delicious but tend not to transfer so well to a picnic rug on the ground. What you need this weekend are some All-American treats, accompanied by All-American stories of Southern towns, overeating, and being kidnapped by pirates. (OK, maybe that last one isn’t particularly American.) These six books contain the perfect food ideas for your Fourth of July picnic, so you can make everyone else jealous.

Hot Dogs — The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin

This is America, so if you’re not serving hot dogs, you’re doing something wrong. The Tummy Trilogy is the compilation of Calvin Trillin’s three hilarious books on avoiding pretentious foreign cuisine, and knuckling down to good old American food.

Gently Cooked Vegetables — An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

Cooking vegetables is dull, right? Wrong, actually. Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal is a meditation on the enjoyment of simple, cheap, and delicious cooking. Even the humblest ingredients can turn into a delicacy if you’re someone who can boil water with as much charm as Adler, so those plain green beans that you thought were simply too boring to cook might just turn into your favorite picnic snack.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Milk Gravy — Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a gorgeously American nostalgia novel, revolving around an Alabama cafe in which Southern specialties like catfish and pecan pie are regularly served. Food is so central to the novel that Fannie Flagg includes recipes at the back, and her Fried Green Tomatoes with Milk Gravy (and slathered in breadcrumbs and bacon fat) are just too good to miss.

Taiwanese Buns — Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

Part of what makes the U.S.A. so great is its diverse cultures, so why not bring a little Taiwanese food to your Independence Day picnic? Eddie Huang’s lively memoir reminisces about his colorful childhood in a family of “fresh off the boat” immigrants, while celebrating his love for the food of America’s subcultures. Also, Taiwanese buns are kind of like hot dogs, so this is a great way to have seconds without anybody noticing.

Key Lime Pie — Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Is there anything more American than pie? Round off your picnic with a delicious Key Lime Pie, inspired by Nora Ephron’s break-up novel Heartburn. Ephron is better known for her heartwarming romances, but this novel about the ending of a marriage is no less hilarious. It turns out good food really is the answer to any of life’s problems.

Pineapple-Banana Cider — Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

No Fourth of July picnic is complete without some patriotic drinking games, and this mad beverage is ideal for an eccentric game of lawn pong. Eli Brown’s quirky adventure story tells the tale of a chef kidnapped by pirates, and told that he will be kept alive only if he can prepare exquisite meals every week out of the ship’s limited food supply. Pineapple-Banana Cider is only one of his intriguing inventions, but it’s definitely the one I’ll be sipping on this weekend!

Image: Ed Gregory/Stokpic