I was very chuffed to receive an invitation to the United States Independence Day celebrations at the US Embassy this year. More commonly known as the Fourth of July, this year marks the 238th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America. Never having been to America, I couldn’t wait to get an insight into their food and culture – what better way than at the Embassy!
The Fourth of July celebrations were held on the 2nd of July, which is incidentally the date the resolution of independence was approved by Congress in 1776.
The temperature is 3°C when I arrive (that’s 37° Fahrenheit for the Americans) but nothing is going to dampen my spirits. I’m excited to celebrate one of the most important dates in the American calendar. I’m welcomed by the US Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Officer, Jason Frohnmayer and presented with an American-Australian friendship pin, which I immediately pin on my lapel.
We’re ushered into the kitchen where chef Tory McPhail talks to us food in the American South. He talks about his restaurant, Commander’s Palace, and says that if the produce doesn’t come from within 100 miles, they don’t use it. The farm to table movement that we love here in Australia, they’ve been doing it for over 300 years, he says (only half-jokingly). Chef Tory tells us that he moved to New Orleans when he was 19 and fell in love not just with their food, but with the culture, arts and music. Lousiana and New Orleans has such a rich food culture and is the only indigenous food in America – food that pre-dates Italian, French and Spanish migrants.
I’m sure there’s a story here, and I wonder about indigenous food from Native American Indians in the north but forget to ask because we are presented with slow cooked pork belly in a spicy mustard and root beer sauce. It’s melt in the mouth pork, warm from the mustard and slightly sweet from the root beer, with a herbaceous kick from the coriander (cilantro for my American friends).
This is what it looks like to be one of us. I ask the chef how to cook Southern style brisket – his answer – cap side up, rubbed with smoky salt (to replicate smokiness of American barbecue) and in an oven at 225F until it starts to fall apart.
We are ushered back outside, but not before I take a sneak peek at the cabinets filled with rows upon rows of glassware. I have a serious case of glassware envy and in that moment, realise quite how much of a geek I am.
Outside, guests are starting to arrive –
There’s lots of drinks, American hot dogs and burgers, corn chowder and Chef Tory’s famous gumbo, which takes a few days of prep. I’ve always thought of gumbo as seafood, but this is chicken and mushroom gumbo served with spring onions and crackers. It’s the perfect winter comfort food and tastes like the essence of roast chicken folded in with mushrooms, peppers and onions.
And in true Southern style, there’s peach turnovers – little circles of puff pastry, filled with American peaches and a dash of whisky – oh, and covered in a healthy dose of icing sugar for good measure. They’re absolutely irresistible and I scoff three. There’s now a not inconspicuous trail of icing sugar down the front of my black coat, so I figure I might as well go back for more. I’m at five and counting…
Not to mention an array of chocolate and sweets, including red velvet cupcakes and delicious lemony and cinnamon biscuits which I later discover are snickerdoodle cookies.
Ambassador John Berry, who has got to the most amiable ambassador in town – seriously, he’s always smiling and surrounded by people – makes a short speech in which he talks about the men and women who gave their lives for the liberties Americans have today.
He talks about life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and how America as a nation is always changing. America now has it’s first African-American president. And just last year Ambassador Berry married his partner of 17 years, Curtis Yee. America continues to surprise us, he says.
There residence was open for guests to walk through, and activities such as baseball, AFL and golf are on offer for those who are sports-inclined. I turn down the opportunity to have a baseball pitched at me at 90km an hour and opted for an AFL kick instead – and promptly sent the ball flying over one of the residence’s perfectly manicured hedges. Oops.
I leave you with some words of wisdom from America’s forefathers – and one of my favourite parts of the decor that afternoon.
And some recipes and great stories from Discover America.