Pioneer Potluck: About the Fourth of July

Fourth of July
in the 1940s and 50s,
Fort Collins, Colorado



My Mom planned Fourth of July picnics just like she planned Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. A week before she made her trip to town with a long list of things that she intended to cook, bake and fry.  In the late 40s, two days before the Fourth of July, two or three chickens were picked out of the chicken pen with the long chicken hook, their heads chopped, their feathers plucked and the pin feathers singed. Then the innards were removed – the gizzard, (we saved that for Dad to eat) liver and heart saved. The naked chickens were taken into the house, placed in the sink and washed with baking soda added to the water, drained and then cut in frying pieces and put in the refrigerator for the next day. I learned when I was about 12 to cut up chickens. How times have changed – bags of frozen chicken thighs, drumsticks and white meat – all ready to be thawed and fried. No feathers to play with and no innards to look through!    

Mom would get out her cast-iron skillets, and use Crisco, bacon grease and 2 tablespoons butter in the frying pans. The chicken was dredged in flour that was salted and peppered and placed in the hot grease and fried slowly to perfection. She put the fried chicken in a big blue roaster and depending what day she fried it, kept it warm till serving time or let it cool and placed it in the refrigerator for the 4th of July picnic.  

Mom also made chocolate cake in her Pyrex glass 9 x 13 dish.  It was frosted with powdered sugar, cocoa, butter and moistened with a dab of cream and a splash of vanilla.  She spent time swirling and making the top look nice.  No box cake mixes and cans of frosting that I usually use in this day and age!  In the 50s she started making the Texas Sheet Cake with lots of nuts on the top.  It was easier to transport.

We loaded all the goodies in card board boxes and would travel to the City Park in Fort Collins to meet with Grandma and Grandpa Cogswell, uncles Les and Marvin and sometimes Aunt Ruth and Uncle Norman, (before kids) and various other relatives. 

We would arrive at the City Park where the picnic tables were under roofs to keep the sun or rain out.  Usually Grandma and Grandpa Cogswell were already there to claim a picnic table.  The table was always an end one, close to the lake. Most of the farmer friends were at other tables.  It was a nice get-to-gather.   

Grandma had fried her chickens, made her delicious potato salad and brought her cherry and apple pies.  Each family brought their own place settings. In earlier days it was not paper plates.  Being conservative as possible in those days, why purchase paper plates when you could wash the plates you already have?   I am afraid I over use in the paper plate department.  Why use glass dishes you have to wash when paper plates are handy and cheap? I think my Mom would raise her eyebrow at me and Grandma would downright give me a lecture on saving my money for important things. 

The ironed table clothes were put on the washed down picnic tables. The fried chicken and the entire picnic fare, including my Mom’s dill pickles, were laid out on the table with the plates and silver ware at one end of the table.  Everyone was called to gather around for a short blessing from Grandpa and we would grab the plates and start filling our plates with the best food in the whole world! 

Most of the time us kids would sit on a blanket on the grass to eat ourselves full while the “folks” sat at the table.  We would go back for dessert – a slice of grandma’s pie (for me, it was my favorite, cherry) and big piece of Mom’s cake.  Finished eating and stuffed full, our plates and silverware put in a box, then and only then, could we go over to the lake or the swings and slides or find friends to play with.

 I spent a lot of time watching teens and adults in one piece bathing suits frolicking in the roped off area of the lake.  It was surrounded by cement and a dock to walk out on.  It was always sunny and hot.  I dreamed, wishing I had a bathing suit and could join the rest having such fun.  The only problem with that was Mom would not buy me a bathing suit, as I would “only wear it once on the 4th.” And what would grandpa think if he saw me in a bathing suit?!  So I never had a bathing suit, nor did I own one until Marty bought me one for my vacation to Hawaii with my then husband, Richard. Oh! But Marty had devious ideas! The minute it got wet it turned transparent! So to replace it, I bought a nice two piece suit in Hawaii. The one day I wore it on the beach, I was so pleased. That evening we hung our wet suits to dry on the lanai. A big hurricane hit that night – goodbye top to my bathing suit.  I do own one now – but only to go to our lake in the heat of the day – by myself and our dog and kitties.  

 In the meantime to go back to the City Park Picnic — we all sat on the quilts on the grass and watch the fireworks over the lake.  The ooohhh’ and awe’s were like echo’s rippling through the large crowd of people who had gathered to see the 4th of July fireworks.  And yes, to a little girl – they were awesome! And we got to stay up late!

About 1952 that we stopped going to the park – because it was not fun anymore – in Dad and Moms words – “too many people we do not know!”  



Although I am so grateful for the rain, it causes havoc to disturbed dirt that has been dug up and placed in other spots in our yard, driveway and in our neighbor’s yard.  Neighbor Kevin rented a backhoe and dug for a week in his yard to get it to look just right – then came to our place and dug some dirt for us to put in the water-line ditch that needed to be filled.

Then the rain came during the night – the young man came to pick up the backhoe from Kevin’s, the young man turned the wrong direction and came to the top of OUR hill, tried to turn around and got stuck with the backhoe on the trailer leaning up against OUR DirecTV dish and pole. 

On the third try, the young man got out of his truck and locked in his 4 wheels and dug himself even deeper.  The “mad as a wet hen” that lives in this place (ME) got her rain gear on and tramped up the hill to discuss the stuck in the mud, next to the television pole, problem.  I came to the conclusion it had to be me to make the decision. So I called Kevin to come and take our snowplow with 4 wheel drive and pull him out. 

In the meantime I called Bob at work at M&M.  He said he was on his way. I pulled two long chains up the hill –Kevin arrived and they hooked on to the rental big truck with the backhoe on the trailer.   Kevin and the snowplow eased him out of the hole the young man dug all by himself.  Kevin said his yard is one big mess too, thanks to the young man and not knowing too much about running equipment.  So back to the drawing board as soon as this rain lets up. We will get out the rake and fill in the ruts and holes in our drive way AGAIN!! 

The heart attack I had watching all this, cleared up the cholesterol in my heart!! 

And that is life on the North Nikiski, end of the Ricks Ranch Road. 


I understand that this was a Friday night fish fry, side dish throughout Wisconsin. 

Six slices bacon, chopped and fried. Take out of skillet - reserve 3 tablespoons bacon fat in skillet.

3 pounds red potatoes-boiled-drained-cooled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick.

1 onion chopped fine

1 teaspoon celery seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Add onions to the 3 tablespoons of bacon fat in skillet; cook at medium heat until softened, about 2 to 3 min. Add celery seed, mustard seed and dry mustard, cooking about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook about 1 min.  Slowly whisk in the vinegar, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the sugars, the salt and pepper bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, taking about 2 min. Gently place cooked potatoes and crisp bacon back in skillet and fold to combine. Season again with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve at room temperature.  My friend Paula added sliced, boiled eggs to the top and sprinkled with parsley. 



1 1/2 pounds red potatoes cut in 1/2 inch pieces, boiled drained and transferred to large bowl to cool


1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise-set aside

Add to cool potatoes in large bowl:

2 ribs celery chopped fine

2 carrots peeled and shredded

2 small onions chopped fine

6 large hard cooked eggs peeled and chopped

8 ounces of imitation crab or more

Add the vinegar-mayonnaise mixture to the rest of the ingredients in bowl. Fold and stir gently.  Chill before serving.

In place of potatoes, cooked and cooled shell-roni or other macaroni’s do well with this salad. 


1 small can chopped chilies

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 medium onion chopped

1 pint sour cream

2 to 3 cups flaked, cooked halibut

1 dozen flour tortillas

Mix the first five ingredients and roll mixture into tortillas. Place in oiled 9 x 13” baking dish.

Mix and pour the following over the top:

1 can tomato soup undiluted

1 medium canned mild enchilada sauce-red or green

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cups shredded or grated cheddar cheese

Mix and pour over floued tortillas

Top with grated cheddar cheese. Bake 20 to 30 min. at 375°

This is a good recipe you can make in the morning, refrigerate and then bake

Serve with refried beans, Mexican rice, and green salad.


When Susan and Porter lived in Fairbanks for 12 years, we visited many times.  Susan served this wonderful halibut fish with a big “Susie green salad” and wonderful fresh bread.

Fresh uncooked halibut fillets and pieces (bones removed) placed in an oiled 13 x 9 baking dish.

In a large bowl mix:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Mix and spoon over the halibut

Bake at 350° until halibut test done and top is nicely browned about 35 to 45 min. 


Make the day before or the morning before you plan to serve this delicious cake.

1 box lemon cake mix

1 small package coconut cream instant pudding

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup water

4 eggs

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Put oil, water and eggs in the small bowl and mix. Put cake mix, instant pudding and nuts in a larger bowl. Combine the two and pour into a 9 x 13 oiled cake pan bake at 350° for 35 to 40 min. until it tests done.

While the cake is baking combine the following:

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons melted butter

1/3 cup warm water

1 teaspoon coconut extract or vanilla or lemon extract

Turn off oven. Take cake out of oven and poke holes with a meat fork. Pour powdered sugar mixture over hot cake. Put back in the turned off oven for 5 min., remove and chill

For the topping:

1 small package coconut instant pudding

Mix dry pudding into:

1-8 ounce Cool Whip

1-8 ounce drained crushed pineapple

1/2 cup crushed pecans

Spread over chilled cake. Sprinkle with coconut. Keep refrigerated until served.

Be prepared to share this recipe!