The 4th of July picnic menu here on Main Street is always a great topic of discussion in my family, one that entertains us not just in the days leading up to the 4th, but throughout the year.

We kick around whether we need a tent, how many hot dogs to buy, which soda is preferred (Diet Coke is second only to bottles of water), what kind of cookies to make (bar cookies are much smarter than drop cookies for a crowd, I always say). Should we make the baked beans again? One year my dad sent out actual paper invitations, and it’s been fodder for our 4th-talk ever since.

Funny thing about this extended, savored discussion is that in the end, the menu rarely changes; except for once or twice here and there, the parade party has been the same for the last 40-odd years. When we’ve gone all out for a catered picnic, it’s sure been easier, but it’s just not the same as our homey spread.

And this day, the 4th of July in Harbor Springs, is all about that homey tradition. Those of us coming here from somewhere else, we crave the nostalgic Harbor 4th. Those of us who live here, we also crave that big-day-in-a-small-town moment, even though this place is ours all year long.

What I’d give to swoop around town and hover over the multitude of picnics that will happen on the 4th, and see what’s what on people’s tables. We know it’s a hot dog day, but other interesting things pop up. Our table is always graced with Carolyn Grin’s super-delicious picnic salad, one she says is her go-to for alfresco eating because there’s no mayo to worry over in the hot sun. I love it not just because it tastes so good, and not just because it is such an ultra-healthy salad on a day when not much else I put in my mouth could be called that (I justify it all, as many of us do, by running the Paul Revere first thing. Not the 10-mile like my brother Tom, but 3 miles do the trick).

I love the salad because I can count on its presence, right there with Carolyn’s family who come rain or shine (honestly, I can’t remember much rain, ever). When I asked Carolyn to share her salad recipe, she said yes with delight, but she hoped that didn’t mean we’d be making it ourselves this year for the 4th. She wants to make the salad and bring it over as she always does. She wants to keep her tradition.

For years we enjoyed the presence of Carolyn’s parents on our front porch on the 4th. They, and too many others (Dad, Ruth, Larry Rau, George Menzi, John Collins, Darrell and Eris Smith, and of course the countless courageous who have served our country) who we wish were still on the porch are not. It’s for them, and for all that is finite, that we tear up each time we hear the familiar drumbeat that signals the start of the parade here on Main Street.

Life changes, the generations pass into history. The only thing we can do about that is respond with a big measure of grace. And hold on to the traditions that we know we can count on every year, like 4th of July in Harbor Springs.

This story and recipe were published today in the Harbor Light.

Carolyn Grin’s Picnic Salad

Totally delicious, and totally healthy, here is a salad you don’t have to worry about in the hot summer sun. The quantities can easily be doubled; here I’ve given half the amount Carolyn Grin typically makes for the 4th of July. The ingredients are fairly flexible too—add some goat or feta cheese, some chopped herbs like basil and parsley, or throw in some carrots or whatever veggies look great at the farmer’s market. For the pesto, purchase some for ease, or make a quick batch in the food processor of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. Serves 15-20.

½ lb. pearled barley (1 ¼ cup uncooked)
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
2 cups or 1 can rinsed cooked chickpeas
2 cups or 1 can rinsed cooked black beans
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup pesto
½ cup lemon vinaigrette

Cook the barley in a small saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Rinse in a colander.

Coarsely chop the pepper into 1-inch pieces. Line a sheet pan with foil and scatter the peppers, skin side up, on the prepared pan. Place under the broiler until the peppers are roasted, charred in places, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir well to combine. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to one day to allow flavors to meld.

Print this recipe here.