Whether you’re dining out at your favorite al fresco restaurant or having the gang over for a cookout, there are certain foods that just scream summer. We decided to take a closer look at the history of our favorite warm weather dishes and their origins are as robust and flavorful as the foods themselves.

Potato Salad:
Potato salad wasn’t always the bane of worried picnic-going mothers trying to protect their brood from too-long-in-the-sun mayo-drenched side dishes. It was first introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Early salads were made by boiling potatoes in wine or mixtures of vinegar and spices. The more American version has its roots in German cuisine and came here with early European settlers. While a little less mainstream, many potato salad recipes today still call for bacon, onion and vinegar dressing – a potato play right out of German cuisine. (TIP: try this more German style salad with blue cheese crumbles for total WOW flavor!) Iconic mayo brands like Hellman’s Best Foods and Miracle Whip helped popularize the “classic American” potato salad in the mid 20th century with recipes that called for potato, chopped celery, mayonnaise and herbs.

Hamburger:
The hamburger as we know it has a long and sordid history. Historians believe that ground beef originally appeared during the time of the Tartars or Mongols who stored it between the saddle and skin of their horses. After hours of being sandwiched in place it became tender enough to eat…RAW. (Yes, raw.) This form later made its way to Russia where it took on the original version of beef tartare. Fast forward several hundred years, and a few hot griddles and countries (Hey, Germany!) to 19th century America. Here’s where it gets tricky. The story used to be that the first hamburger was served up at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The sandwich was made with a cooked patty of ground beef on a hard roll. There are earlier references to hamburgers but the 1904 fair was basically where the burger hit the jackpot in popularity. However, a New Haven, Connecticut restaurant claims that Louis Lassen served up the first hamburger in 1895 in response to an impatient customer’s hurried lunch order. A man named Charlie Nagreen also claimed to invent the hamburger at an 1885 fair in Seymour, Wisconsin when he decided to smash his meatballs between pieces of bread to up sales and allow customers to eat meatballs on the go. Finally, the Menches Brothers also claim to have invented the sandwich at an 1885 fair in Hamburg, NY when they ran out of sausages and were forced to serve customers ground beef, mixed with spices and shaped into patties on bread. No one knows for sure who actually invented the hamburger, but all roads lead to delicious where these tales are concerned.

Hot Dog:
The sausages we know as a “hot dog” were originally known as dachshund or “little dog”  sausages and were created in the late 1600’s by Johann Georghehner, a butcher, living in Coburg, Germany. The origin of the sausage, later referred to as “red hots” in America, is fairly clear; however some mystery surrounds the modern-day ballpark favorite known as the hot dog. One theory goes that a concession stand owner at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 was selling hot sausages and loaning his customers white gloves so they would be able to eat the meat. When customers kept walking off with his gloves he enlisted his brother-in-law, a baker for help in creating a soft roll the size of the sausage. Et voila – the hot dog was born.

Corn on the cob:
Corn or maize is one of the few foods native to North America; however, corn on the cob is a very specific variety of corn called Sweet Corn.  The Iroquois gave the first recorded sweet corn to European settlers in 1779 and it’s been an American favorite ever since. Sweet corn, unlike field corn (the kind of corn harvested for grain) is picked before the kernels mature so they’re soft and sweet, not dry and hard as with grain corn. Sweet corn is the only kind of corn that is eaten off of the cob. The most popular cooking methods are steaming, grilling and roasting.

Watermelon:
Whether you’re slicing this juicy fruit up and eating it as a side dish, freezing it for a cool flavorful dessert, filling it with booze or mixing it into a shake, watermelon is a summer staple.  Watermelons are native to Africa and are thought to have been introduced to the US around 1500. French explorers are said to have found Native Americans cultivating watermelons in the Mississippi valley. Other sources believe that the fruit was introduced to Massachusetts and other regions of the country through the help of African slaves. While most Americans only eat the fleshy fruit part of the melon, the rind also has tons of nutritional value. In China the rinds are stewed and pickled or stir-fried with olive oli, garlic, chilis and scallions.  Watermelon juice, while delicious on its own, can also be fermented and turned into wine.

 

Ice Cream:
The evolution of ice cream dates back as far as the 2nd century B.C . with mentions in both biblical and secular histories. It’s said that Nero Claudius Caesar would often send runners to the mountains to bring back snow which was then flavored with fruits and syrups. (And you thought your job was rough!)  Ice cream as we know it was first seen in America in the mid 1700’s. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, President George Washington spent approximately $200 on ice cream during the summer of 1790 (that would be almost $5,000 on ice cream in today’s market).  The inventions of ice houses and refrigeration technology in the 19th century turned ice cream into a major American industry. During WWII ice cream became an edible morale symbol with branches of the military trying to outdo each other with the amount of ice cream they served to their troops. Today ice cream in America is HUGE. About 1.53 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts were produced in the U.S. in 2011 and in 2010 the U.S. ice cream industry generated total revenues of $10 billion!

These are a few of our summer food favorites but we want to know yours! What cravings tickle your taste buds when the weather gets warm? Share them below!