Growing up, every year for the 4th, we would spread blankets in the shady grass of a little park tucked into the corner of uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, and wait for the action to happen. Usually we’d swing by Kentucky Fried Chicken for a meal to tote with us. Sometimes my mom would make sandwiches. Always the recipe for the afternoon and evening was the same:
You have to arrive at the park hours before the show to find parking and just the right spot to spread out. The shady blanketed place where mom and dad sat was home base. We were free to run through the grass, make friends with neighboring children, feed the geese, do cartwheels, and take a zillion trips over the bridge to peer into the pond below. Reporting back to home base meant a drink, a snack, stretching across one of my grandma’s old quilts, and watching the clouds roll overhead. If you situated yourself just right mom would play with your hair. Asking my dad the time every fifteen minutes was a necessity because between 9:30 and 10 pm the 5 minute warning shot went off and then the fireworks would commence.
We loved the deafening boom that echoed off the buildings. The loud crackles that lit up the air and made us smile and laugh involuntarily. We’d try to pick our favorite displays of color, each one outdone by the one that followed. We’d sit together, faces tilted toward the sky, and watch in awe. Notes of the national anthem would float by, broadcast from a car stereo manned by one of our for-the-night neighbors sharing in the experience. The “grand finale” was a spectacular display of lights, colors, and sounds, all blending together, that seemed to go on and on and on forever until your senses could barely stand it.
When it finally stopped and the sky went dark, there was always a pause. A silence so big and full of awe it was almost audible. Then the night would erupt with cheers and clapping and whoops and hollers as the entire city reveled in the celebration. You could hear crowds cheering from parking lots, stadiums, and rooftop decks for blocks upon blocks, the joy spreading from one picnic blanket to the next.
Then we’d snatch our belongings and race to the car so my dad could try to “beat the traffic”.
I would use every color in my crayon box to recreate the fireworks on construction paper for days.
This tradition peresevered for years and years for our family and many others. I adore the 4th. As we’ve all grown older our Independence Day traditions have moved zip codes and morphed a bit, but we still celebrate and share each other’s company as much as distance and schedules will allow.
Last year Chad and I made every attempt at being present for every fireworks event in a 60 mile radius. We were mostly successful in our endeavor, sitting on the roof of the car in the sticky summer heat watching the sky light up and glitter before our eyes. The town we live near was off their game last year, setting their show off a day earlier than usual. We only caught a glimpse of it by accident while making a late night run to the store for a gallon of milk. I was so disappointed.
Yesterday I came to find out that one of the more amazing shows we caught last year in a tiny mountain town nearby has already happened. The 2012 4th of July Extravaganza was scheduled for June 29th. WHAT. IN. THE. WORLD.
Rescheduling this most important national holiday has become a very common practice; most of the fireworks shows in our area are not even happening on the 4th. What’s worse is that we’d already missed many of them before the weekend even got started good. THAT is celebration ruination. For real.
For me, strawberries, buttermilk, and a cast iron skillet are the kitchen essence of July the 4th. They ring of freshness and tradition with just the right amount of comfort. I need lots of comfort when I miss out on happy holiday things that have carried on my whole life; things I’m only missing out on because of poor event planning and subsequent advertising. Strawberries and buttermilk definitely do the trick.
I baked this cake in my cast iron skillet using Joy the Baker’s flawless recipe. I loaded finished slices of my skillet cake with fresh whipped cream and more sliced fresh strawberries, picked and purchased that same day, courtesy of Knob Creek.
Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk Cake from Joy the Baker
1 small (8 ounce-ish) carton of strawberries, hulled and halved
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teensy pinch of kosher salt
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled just a little
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top
Pre-heat the oven to 375 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the strawberries in a bowl and in another smaller bowl whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, and salt. Drizzle this mixture over the strawberries and toss to coat. Spread the strawberries evenly across the parchment paper in a single layer. Roast them for 25-35 minutes; watch them closely! Remove them when the juices thicken but before they start to burn (mine started to burn around the edges and I had to snatch them out!). Empty the strawberries AND their juices into a bowl and toss them with the balsalmic vinegar. Set aside.
Turn the oven up to 400.
Butter the heck out of your 11 inch cast iron skillet. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a smaller bowl whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and butter. Then add in the vanilla.
Dump the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until it is just smooth and combined. Spread the batter evenly in the buttered cast iron skillet and then spread half of the strawberries over the top. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the entire top of the cake.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. **WATCH the cake! Mine started to get a little too dark around the edges**
Serve at room temperature with fresh whipped cream and the remaining roasted strawberries.