A Feast Inspired by the 50 States

Summer is admittedly not my favorite season, but I’m sure everyone who knows me has realized that by now. I’ve complained enough about the heat and humidity, sunburn (thanks a lot, fair skin and a desk job, for making the sun an enemy), allergies, and bees enough in my time to prove that point to anyone.

As with everything, though, there are trade-offs. The end of summer will mean that local, fresh produce will start to trickle away and outdoors farmers markets will close for the season. It’s still possible to eat seasonally in the fall and winter, but to buy outside of a conventional grocery store, options are limited to hearty greens and root vegetables.

And as much as I love kale and rainbow Swiss chard, it’s hard to beat a good Caprese salad. The taste of slightly acidic, fresh heirloom tomatoes nestled together with buratta or mozzarella cheese, drizzled with good olive oil and balsamic, some salt and fresh pepper, and fresh basil… that is pure bliss.

My undying love for Caprese aside, it’s true: I can’t wait for the end of summer so my favorite season, fall, can begin. Before that happens, though, many of us will likely be spending our Labor Day weekend hosting or attending one last party of the season. If you’re looking for ideas for what to serve and are getting tired of hamburgers and hot dogs by now, try a themed menu of favorite foods from across America.

Choosing What to Eat

Serve food from a handful of your favorite states or from the home states of your guests. For me, I would focus on food from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the states where I grew up and where I live now; Massachusetts and Maine, home to some of my favorite seafood dishes (hello, lobster rolls and New England clam chowder…); Florida, because Key Lime Pie; and Kentucky, home to my favorite bourbon (Makers Mark).

Going with that idea, my party food list might look something like this:

  • PA: soft pretzel bites with mustard and hot cheddar cheese dip as an appetizer (fun facts: there’s a pretzel museum in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania consumes more pretzels than any other state — and for good reason because they’re delicious.)
  • NJ: bruschetta made with Jersey tomatoes as an appetizer, grilled corn-on-the-cob with butter as a side dish, and Italian pastries and cookies as a dessert (Italian pastries and cookies from one of our favorite bakeries in Newark, where my mom and many family members on her side were born, were must-haves at any family gathering I had growing up and are still staples at our parties today.)
  • MA: baked butter beans as a side dish (a hit-or-miss with some people, like Steve, who isn’t a huge fan, but I love them.)
  • ME: lobster salad on split-top, New England-style hot dog buns as a main course (lobster… need I say more?)
  • KY: pulled BBQ pork sliders as a main course and a warm weather-appropriate bourbon cocktail to drink (really, this one was a no-brainer.)

Served with a side of trivia

Put a plaque or label near each dish with the name and state of origin, so guests know what they’re eating and where it’s from.

You could offer guests a little history or fun fact about food from each state, too, if you’re up to it. Hop on Google and look up some state trivia, or check out these fun books and games you could break out for the party:

What would your feast inspired by the states look like? Let me know in a comment below!