FAIRMONT — (Editor’s note: The “My Favorite Recipe” food for July is hot dog sauce. Send your favorite homemade recipes to Debbie Wilson at email@example.com.)
You really should have been at Juanita Davis’ house on the Second of July.
Don’t worry about calling ahead of time. She probably had enough for you.
Each Independence Day weekend, she whips up a patriotic feast for more than 30 friends and family.
Deviled eggs. Potato salad. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, chicken. All kinds of desserts and fruits.
And her signature hot dog sauce that’s, incidentally, great on burgers, chicken and even shrimp.
“Everything I can think of that’s picnic fare,” she said. “It’s un-American to not eat hot dogs. You got that right.”
Days before the big event, she gets out all her red-white-and-blue paraphernalia. Little U.S. flags? Check. Big U.S. flags? Of course. Bunting and bows? Naturally. Red-white-and-blue inflatable ice thingy for cold salads and drinks? Already done. Games and prizes for the kiddies? Oh, yeah.
What, you think she’s an amateur at this?
Jack, her husband of 46 years, even has a popcorn machine. But, sadly, there were no cotton candy maker or ponies.
At least this year.
For the past six years, she’s made sure the nation’s birthday was celebrated in all-American style, so she’s got it down to a science in a notebook with guidelines and directions so everything gets done on time.
“I love the Fourth of July. And I cook it all. This is my cookout. And then ... I just fizzle out,” she said, laughing.
One sister-in-law takes care of Easter, Memorial Day and Christmas, while another hosts an end-of-summer bash and the whole family gets together for one huge Thanksgiving meal. But when it comes to July 4, even Uncle Sam doesn’t have a thing on Juanita Davis.
“It’s just an old-fashioned kind of day,” she said.
She’d like to host a homemade ice cream social, but that would probably be too much trouble. She’s already thrown an ice cream sundae bar.
“But it was too daggone hot to keep the ice cream from getting too mushy,” she lamented.
Each year she digs out that trusty notebook, which lists “how much of this, how much of that” she’ll need. And each year she adds to her patriotic treasure trove of decorations, whether it’s a cheap throw-away at the dollar store or special order from a novelty catalog.
“So each year it gets relatively easier to do,” she said.
She’s learned a few things over the years.
Buy as much food in bulk as you can.
Get as much help from family as you can.
If something needs to be changed, change it.
“The key is planning. You can’t do something like this the day before,” she said wisely. She started getting ready on Wednesday and by Saturday afternoon, it was all systems go.
She’s got this hot dog sauce down pat, too. For one reason, her family loves it so much they often ask her to make them some special.
Another reason is she used to run the concession stand at Wave Tek Pool.
“I used to make two to three gallons at a time, sometimes three times a week,” she said.
When life throws you a curve ball, knock it out of the park.
Like last Friday. She had to leave early to take one son to the Pittsburgh airport, come back and clean the grill, make the potato salad and deviled eggs, and get everything else ready for Saturday’s bash.
She did it.
“And Saturday at 2, we’ll fire up the grill and start doing hamburgers,” she said. Burgers go on first because they take the longest to cook and take up the most space. As they’re finished, they go into a holding pan, while hot dogs go on. Chicken and steak were partially cooked the day before and need just a few minutes on the grill to finish.
“I could write a book on party planning,” she said with a laugh.
“I love to cook. I love to watch cooking shows on TV. I like Rachael Ray because she reminds me of how my mother (Ruth Cole) cooked. She was a great cook. I’m known for my vegetable beef soup and potato salad and my bread ... things like that. My mom taught me.
“She cooked like people did back then ... a little bit of that, a handful of this, stir and taste. That’s how I cook.”
So it took her a minute or two to write down the recipe for her hot dog sauce.
“It’s a baseline. Put more or less in it if you wish.”
The contest for July is hot dog sauce. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.