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Summertime, Picnic Time

“Summertime and the living is easy…” so the song goes and nothing marks summertime more than cookouts and picnics with family and friends.

A week or so ago, I ran across a CNN article where they polled their readers and some 38,000 votes later the ultimate summertime menu was firmly in place. It started with a burger, cooked medium and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions, potato salad, corn on the cob and watermelon, washed down with plenty of ice cold beer.

No doubt a perfectly good ole’ U.S. of A menu. Well, not quite. While we have, unquestionably claimed the rights to these dishes — after all they have been a part of our lives for a long, long time — their origins, just as ours, are from somewhere else.

Okay, let’s start with the burger first. According to “The Hamburger: A History” written by Josh Ozersky and published in 2008, the modern day patty between two halves of a bun is an American invention with endless regional variations. But the concept of the patty itself was brought to the United States by German immigrants who loved their Hamburg steak. The cheap, chopped or roughly ground beef became a popular menu item in New York City restaurants that catered to German sailors and European immigrants hungry for old country home cooking.

And our beloved potato salad just happened to be another staple of German immigrants who brought over endless variations, especially the one with warm dressing and lots of vinegar, becoming popular here in the latter part of the 19th century. We probably don’t give a second thought when we order German potato salad at the deli counter…

A drum roll please for the corn on the cob since this is a true home team dish that goes back to Native Americans in the 1700s. And would you believe that watermelon, on picnic tables from coast to coast, is believed to have originated in the Kalahari Desert in Africa.

Ah, we finally come to beer, just in time to wash down all these good eats. Well, archeologists claim that beer, in one variation or another (and no, not in the blue and white Bud Light case) has been around since at least 6000 BC. And to keep all this somewhat on home turf, Apache, Pueblo, Navajo and Tarahumara tribes in Northern Mexico and Arizona were no slouches either, brewing a weak corn-based beer called tiswin at least 1000 years ago.

But, wait, wait! Where’s the apple pie? After all we know that there’s nothing more American than apple pie. Well, it appears that we lose again, since we’re told that English, Dutch and Swedish recipes go back centuries. What a bummer.

So if you have been paying attention to all of this, before I rush off to refill my plate for a second helping, here’s a practical tip. The next time your know-it-all brother-in-law, with hamburger in hand and a mouthful of potato salad mumbles “Wow this is sure good,” casually mention “Well, you know, we owe it all to the Germans…”