This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 1, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Although 74 million Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with a backyard barbecue, my wife and I have usually followed what we consider a long held American tradition of having hot dogs on Independence Day. What you serve and eat on the Fourth probably has to do with what you like to eat. And that may have a lot to do with where you live.
The idea of eating hot dogs on the Fourth of July was fostered by the annual event, “Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest,” held on Independence Day on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Nathan’s Famous, a hot dog company, holds this contest and sells about 26,000 hot dogs on the big day. Legend says the hot dog eating contest was first begun in 1916, but historians find no evidence of a Contest on the Fourth before 1972.
What many of us consider a Texas hot dog, consisting of wiener, bun, chili sauce, cheese, onions, and, in many cases, sauerkraut, is actually referred to as a “Coney Island” by others north of us. I’m guessing the name came from Nathan’s on Coney Island.
The fully-loaded hot dog is a food item I enjoy eating, but, more than the hot dog, I relish the corn dog. Why I like the corn dog more than the hot dog, Coney Island or otherwise, is probably due to my love of old-fashioned corn bread, which my mother baked quite frequently. After all, a corn dog is just a wiener on a stick, covered with corn bread batter and baked in the oven (or fried in oil).
Dime Box, in the 1940’s, had a mill, where we got our corn ground into cornmeal. I don’t remember if the mill had the equipment necessary to grind the corn further into corn flour or not, but we never had corn flour, just cornmeal. My mother’s corn bread was made with cornmeal, a little wheat flour, butter, buttermilk, eggs, baking powder, a dash of baking soda, salt, and sugar. This combination of ingredients made for a rich, sumptuous corn bread.
Some folks made and ate corn pone, which was a “bare bones” corn bread, consisting of cornmeal, water, and salt; so they may not feel the nostalgia I have for Mama’s rich corn bread batter. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to convince my wife to have corn dogs for Fourth of July rather than hot dogs. I don’t think her family ate either corn bread or corn pone.
What could be more American than corn dogs? Native Americans, like the ancestors of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Hopi, and others were making different forms of cornmeal batter 7,000 years ago.
People in Mexico and Texas use masa harina to make their corn tortillas, which I’m betting would make some really great corn dogs! It was the huge influx of Germans immigrating to America in the 1800’s that made sausage of all kinds popular, wiener or otherwise. Maybe that’s why I never saw a sausage I didn’t like!
Well, Fourth of July eating traditions differ from state to state, county to county, and city to city, but pigging out on favorite foods is not the real reason we celebrate Independence Day. My ancestors emigrated to America for religious and economic reasons; many other families came for political freedom. We need to review the true meaning of this national holiday on every Fourth.
It was on July 4, 1776 that the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Thirteen North American colonies declared their separation from Great Britain.
The Declaration of Independence is a beautifully written proclamation, which fully represented what our Founding Fathers believed and held sacred. Because Thomas Jefferson was the best writer in the New World, he was chosen to write the document. Because of the enormous significance the Declaration carried, it had to be perfectly written, and it was. Don’t quibble over “all men”; it was universally understood that what was meant by the language of the Era was “all people.” It began with these now famous words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” God bless America is my prayer for the Fourth!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and the author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.