THE Fourth of July parade and the firecrackers I can do without, and although I admit the holiday fireworks displays are often glorious, there's one thing I can't do without on the Fourth: fresh salmon served with fresh peas from the garden. This holiday meal is one of the nicest things about July. The salmon and sweet new peas are just one of many New England traditions still followed by some families in the region.
Abigail Adams is the one who started it all. She served salmon and peas as early as 1773, the records show, and because it had such an ``American'' quality, she later decided it would be perfect fare for the very first Fourth of July celebration.
Years ago salmon was plentiful in the Atlantic in late June and early July, at the same time New England's first crop of sweet peas was harvested. The challenge for many home gardeners today is to get the seeds planted in the garden early enough in March to be able to pick the first crop to go with the Fourth of July salmon.
New potatoes, too, are traditional -- the tiny white ones boiled or steamed with the skin on and served with parsley butter. The new peas are usually steamed or boiled, but barely long enough to heat them. They're served with butter, and perhaps a little mint or lemon juice.
Today a host or hostess might like to serve Chinese snow peas or the new snap peas instead of the shelled peas for a change. Often it depends on what is available either in the backyard garden or at the market.
The salmon-and-peas meal took firm root in New England when there were plenty of fish in the rivers, before the lumber dams, textile mills, sewage, and factories of the industrial era turned the salmon away.
Now, while there is only one species of salmon in the Atlantic, there are five kinds of Pacific salmon: pink; sockeye, also called red; coho, sometimes called silver; chum, or keta; and chinook, also called king or spring salmon. For the holiday dinner it's fine, if possible, to serve a large whole salmon, but often a piece of one will do.
The Fourth of July is also a time when home gardens have plenty of new young lettuce, tiny vegetables, sorrel, chives, mint, and perhaps some tarragon or other herbs. They're all seasonal and definitely appropriate for a holiday meal.
Homemade ice cream from the freezer churn is a traditional pleasure I remember having as a child, but Abigail Adams served Apple Pan Dowdy. Any of the old-fashioned apple dishes are good, whether it's pie, cake, deep-dish, or Apple Brown Betty.
Actually, any time-honored old American favorite dishes are appropriate on this holiday. Fried chicken and corn bread, country chicken pie, Southern ham and old-fashioned potato salad, scalloped oysters -- all would be good.
Fresh cherries are in season in some areas and they make an ideal addition to an American Fourth of July meal or for snacking.
When fresh salmon isn't available, canned salmon is a good substitute, even though the price is higher than it used to be. A salmon loaf, an aspic ring, or a salmon casserole will still uphold the tradition.
Peas are always handsome heaped up in a pretty blue casserole, sometimes garnished with fresh mint. And when salmon is affordable, nothing looks prettier than a large whole one on an ironstone white platter, decorated with parsley, lemon slices, and perhaps a few cherry tomatoes. Poached Salmon Steaks 6 salmon steaks, 1 inch thick 3 slices lemon Parsley sprigs for garnish
Heat 2 quarts water to boiling, reduce heat, and add salt and lemon slices. Add fish and simmer, allowing 10 minutes per measured inch of thickness, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, cool, then carefully remove bone and skin, keeping steaks intact. Serve in platter and cover with Egg Sauce. (If you like, you can make the Egg Sauce egg sauce with some of the fish stock.) Garnish with parsley. Egg Sauce for Salmon 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup heated milk Salt and freshly ground pepper 2 hard-boiled eggs
Melt butter over low heat in heavy saucepan. Mix flour into the butter and cook slowly, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until well blended. sc Gradually stir in hot milk. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring, until smooth and thick. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 2 coarsely chopped hard-boiled eggs. Serve with poached salmon.
Serve salmon and Egg Sauce with fresh garden peas cooked just long enough to make them tender, keeping the brilliant green color. Cook the small new potatoes in boiling water in their skins. Cover with butter, salt and pepper, and chopped parsley. Easy Salmon Loaf 1/3 cup butter 1/2 cup flour 2 cups milk Salt and pepper to taste 1 1-pound can salmon, drained 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons minced onion 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 2 eggs, well beaten 1/2 cup milk 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1/4 cup mayonnaise
Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and blend. Add tcmilk gradually over low heat and cook until smooth and thick, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove bones from salmon if necessary and combine with crumbs, lemon juice, onion, nutmeg, eggs, and half the white sauce. Pour into loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. 30 minutes. To remaining white sauce add 1/2 cup milk and parsley. Heat sauce and just before serving stir in mayonnaise. Serve hot with Salmon Loaf. Serves 6.
A green sauce with a mayonnaise base is good with either hot or cold salmon. Green Herb Sauce 2 cups mayonnaise 1/2 cup watercress, chopped 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, chopped 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
In a mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise and greens, which may be chopped in a food processor or by hand. Blend well. Yield: about 2 cups.