Every year, the Fourth of July celebration in Washington, Va., the original Washington, 70 miles west of the other Washington, gets bigger, and this year's will be a real firecracker.
Twenty-five years ago in this town surveyed 237 years ago by a young George Washington, the Fourth was a nonevent. Sometimes there was a tank-town carnival, but that was it.
When Ramona and Bill Carrigan came to town in 1961 and bought Avon Hall, a stately 19th-century mansion with a vast sweep of greensward that slopes gently down past a picturesque pond to the road, they were shocked that no attention was given to the most important holiday of the nation, especially in a town called Washington.
The Carrigans had come from Iowa, where the Fourth was really something. The whole community was involved in the events, starting with a rousing patriotic parade and ending with a fireworks show.
That first year in Washington, the Carrigans did what they had always done on the Fourth -- they put on a show of pyrotechnics, at Avon Hall.
The people in the town of Washington drove up, parked and watched in delight. The next year, and ever since, the Carrigans haveinvited everybody in all of Rappahannock County to bring a picnic to the lawn of Avon Hall and share the fireworks.
In those early years, if you were from out-of-town and had not brought your own food, you were out of luck. Not a morsel to be bought.
In 1965 the library served a benefit plate supper of ham biscuits, fried chicken, baked beans, deviled eggs, pickles, and relishes for 75 cents. One year later the price doubled. As time went by, food became a more and more important part of the celebration, and it was not long before the whole town became involved in selling food on the Fourth.
Lilian Aylor says, "How could I forget the first black church to sell food for the Fourth of July was the Pastor's Aid Club of Hopewell Baptist Church of Sperryville . I was one of the ones who sat up all night the night before preparing for this day."
This year Volunteer Fire Chief Roger Roach is chairman of all activities in Washington, including his fire department's food booths.
The most popular food concession is the fire department's pig and corn roast in front of the Civil War monument to Rappahannock County men lost in the battles of Manassas, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Cold Harbor.
The fire for the roast is lit the night before and the whole pig starts to cook at 8 a.m. on the Fourth. About 4 p.m., the firefighters will serve pork sandwiches along with coleslaw and roasted corn.
In case anyone gets hungry inhaling the porker while it is being grilled, the firemen can help out at another stand that has hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks.
Across from the monument on Gay Street the fire department volunteers feature, in their beer garden, bratwurst that would tantalize a visitor from Milwaukee. Made by Wilson Meats in Catlett, Va., it is served with Medford Mann's sweet corn from nearby Amisville. Besides beer, two Virginia wines are available -- Oasis Wines of Huntly and Prince Michel Wines from Leon.
The ladies' auxiliary of the fire department does its bit with a bake sale.
The 4-H Livestock Club operates a stand that sells lamb barbecue and lamburgers. Randall Updike, who works for the Department of Agriculture, is leader of the Livestock Club. He will supply two of his 5-month-old, 110-pound lambs. The custom-slaughtered, federally inspected lambs are organically raised and free of antibiotics and growth stimulants (hormones).
Toni, Updike's wife, has a special marinade that the lamb soaks in for 24 hours in the refrigerator. After lifting it out of the marinade, she dries it slightly with paper towels, then rubs it with a dry marinade of plain salt, seasoned salt, paprika, powdered ginger, dry mustard, oregano and ground black pepper. She seals the meat in a "brown-in" bag and bakes it in a slow (250) oven for 1 hour.
Then the lamb is ready for members of the 4-H Livestock Club to grill over a charcoal fire. They will baste the lamb with Toni Updike's marinade.
The 4-H members' stand draws a crowd not just because its aromas are irresistible and the members give free samples, but because they also cook the meat to please all palates -- rare, medium, well done. After one taste, people who swear "I've never liked lamb, can't even stand the smell" end up relishing one, two and three sandwiches topped off with the marinade. The 4-H also serves iced tea and hot dogs.
Brambles Restaurant at the center of town will highlight the Fourth with a sidewalk cafe in a tent. Brambles has two new owners -- Richard Viguerie, the mail-order political fund raiser, and Mel Davis, a chef who has studied in France, Germany and Spain.
"Our food will be strictly Americana -- hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, corn on the cob, barbecued ribs and coleslaw. Inside the restaurant the menu will be different," Davis said.
"I hope I'm not being unpatriotic, but for my barbecue I use only the imported Danish pork ribs. They are nice to work with because they are lean and a good size, about 8 inches wide and 3 inches high.
"I parboil them for 20 minutes. That gets rid of most of the fat. Then I marinate and, later, baste them with a sauce of dry mustard, brown sugar, imported French Dessaux Fils tarragon red wine vinegar, a lot of garlic, canned tomato sauce (fresh, at tomato time), and onions. The ribs marinate overnight in this sauce" before being cooked.
Charlotte Freeman and Nancy Freeman will help Aylor with a bake sale to benefit the new sanctuary of the Promise Land Church. The booth's attractions are special buttermilk pound cake, chocolate and coconut cakes, fresh fruit and berry pies, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, whole-wheat and white breads and rolls, and butterhorns.
Trinity Episcopal Church will dispense "Holy Chow." For its traditional ice cream social on the church lawn such local luminaries as Maurice Herndon, Marie Pietri and James J. Kilpatrick dish up the ice cream.
Chairman Kathy Knuepfer says other "Holy Chow" will be sandwiches, ham biscuits, cupcakes, brownies, chocolate chip cookies (by the bag) and pound cake. You can buy "Holy" iced tea and lemonade to wash it all down.
The Small Farmers' Market, a co-op of local farmers, will set up a food stand in front of Country Heritage Antiques and Crafts on Main Street. Barbara Jolly says the stand will specialize in whole-wheat French bread, poppy seed cake, iced herbal teas, freshly made sandwiches, Lyt Wood's honeys from Red Oak Mountain and any creation members are inspired to make for the Fourth.
Mona and Steve Moldvay will come over from Reva, Va., with lamb kebabs and lamburgers from their own lambs, which also supply fleece for yarns and hand-loomed items on their stand.
Kevin Dysart of Woodstock, Va., will return this year with his "cracklin's," pork skins deep-fried in an old-time iron pot. These cracklin's, difficult, if not impossible to find in stores, are big sellers on the Fourth.
All over town there are craft sales and demonstrations. Many of the local citizens dig out barns and attics for flea markets in their front yards.
A few lucky individuals who know what usually goes on at the softly wind-cooled side porch of Mattie Ball Fletcher will find their way there during the day. The hour does not matter because Fletcher is always ready with ham biscuits that melt in the mouth (her secret is to spread mayonnaise on both cut sides of the biscuit and warm it briefly in a buttered iron fry pan with a lid), evanescent Sally Lunn muffins, sweet and snappy pickle slices, new green beans done up with transparent-pink, black-peppered fat from one of her own aged hams, and maybe a glass of wine she has made from a bag of hard candy leftover from last Christmas.
This year Washington will have lots of food on the Fourth and something for everybody's taste. Many people think the best idea is not to bring a picnic, but to buy food at the stands and take it to watch Avon Hall's fireworks.
Since 1961 the Carrigans have invited special friends to the manse at Avon Hall to have dinner and watch the fireworks from the verandahs and lawn. The food is traditionally southern, all of it cooked by Ramona Carrigan. Locally well-known cooks Ethel Bailey and Rachel Aylor helpCarrigan in getting together all the food.
The menu includes lettuce, potato and fruit salads, tomato aspic, coleslaw, homemade bread and butter pickles, beans baked with fried bacon on top, roast turkey, baked Virginia ham, hot biscuits and an immense cake with Fourth of July decorations.
The list of those friends individually invited to dine with the Carrigans has grown to more than 100. Some of them contribute to the Carrigans' buffet with their own distinctive dishes.
Everyone remembers the zucchini squash casserole that Minnie Lee Summers brings; simply made, it has an intriguing taste.
Guests enjoying drinks before dinner snap up Lydagene Muth's chive sandwiches. "I learned how to make them from Flossie Williamson, a well-known herbalist who died recently , but I use Wonder Bread," Muth says. "If I can't get the thin-sliced sandwich loaf, I cut off the crusts and flatten it out with a rolling pin. Then I just spread one side with mayonnaise and the other with french dressing made with Flossie's mixed herb vinegar and put in lots of chopped chives. If you don't have chives, chopped watercress or parsley will work just as well."
The townspeople bring their baskets to the lawn of Avon Hall. Rev. Steve Scoggin, pastor of the First Baptist Church, his wife Nancy and their son, Benjamin, 2, have a favorite family picnic food. The whole family likes homemade chicken nuggets that Nancy Scoggin makes. Steve Scoggin prizes marinated carrot salad. In the family's hamper will also be cut-up raw vegetables with a dip, rolls, potato chips, brownies and sun tea with sprigs of fresh mint.
On this Fourth of July, Bill Carrigan will walk to the microphone at dusk as he always does and make his little speech to the assemblage below. He will say, as he always does, that this is the last Fourth that he and his wife will be able to sponsor the Independence Day outing.
But the natives know this is not so. The Fourth in Washington, Va., has become too big to stop.
On this, their 25th anniversary as the town fireworks benefactors, the Carrigans have come a long way from the sparklers and roman candles of 1961. Their civic celebration has turned into a razzle-dazzle, 76-trombone extravaganza. It has everything but the Beach Boys.
And it has something that the Washington, D.C., celebration will never have -- a star-spangled cornucopia of country eating. RAMONA CARRIGAN'S BAKED BEANS
1-pound can baked beans
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons ketchup
6 slices bacon, fried until almost crisp
Mix all ingredients except bacon. Bake in a pot with bacon on top in a 350 oven for 30 to 45 minutes. MINNIE LEE SUMMER'S ZUCCHINI SQUASH CASSEROLE (10 servings)
8 medium zucchini, sliced in thin rounds
3 medium onions, quartered and sliced very thin
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
Mix zucchini, onions and seasoning and put in a 9 1/2-by-13-by-3 1/2 flat-bottomed casserole. Distribute butter over top. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until the squash and onions are transparent. NANCY SCOGGIN'S MARINATED CARROTS
Delicious on raw carrots too.
5 cups carrots, sliced in rounds and cooked
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
FOR THE SAUCE:
10 3/4-ounce can tomato soup
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
Mix together carrots, onion and green pepper. Blend together sauce ingredients and pour over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Will keep in refrigerator for 2 weeks. NANCY SCOGGIN'S HOMEMADE CHICKEN NUGGETS
4 chicken breast halves, skinned, boned and cut into finger-size chunks
3/4 cup white flour, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
1 cup vegetable oil
Roll the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then dip in the egg-water batter, then again in the flour. Fry in hot oil till they turn a golden brown. NANCY SCOGGIN'S BROWNIES
2 eggs, beaten well
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3 teaspoons vanilla
Blend eggs, cocoa, sugar, salt and flour, followed by remaining ingredients. Put in a greased and floured 9-inch pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes -- do not overcook. SOUTHERN SPLIT BISCUITS
(Makes 4 to 5 dozen biscuits)
2 large Irish potatoes
1 cup butter plus extra to butter tops
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs, well beaten
2 ( 1/4-ounce) envelopes yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup light cream, warmed
Approximately 6 cups flour
Boil potatoes and mash through a fine sieve while hot; add butter, salt and eggs. Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm cream. Add this to the potato mixture and beat well. Add flour (more if necessary) and knead well. Cover and let rise till double in bulk, then roll out to about 1/4-inch thick, and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place in a pan big enough to hold half of the biscuits in one layer, butter the top of each biscuit and cover half of the biscuits with the other half (be sure to take finger and push down in the center of the 2 pieces so that they will stay together), or turnovers may be made instead. Let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. Bake in a 425-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes. WHOLE-WHEAT ANGEL BISCUITS
(Makes 5 dozen biscuits)
1/4-ounce envelope dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3 to 4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt potional
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup melted butter for brushing
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Mix other ingredients with the yeast. Cut with a biscuit cutter 1/4-inch thick and let stand 15 minutes. Brush with melted butter* and let stand another 15 minutes. Bake on a greased baking pan in a 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. After removing from oven, brush once more with butter.
To reheat, sprinkle biscuits with water, wrap in aluminum foil and bake in 375-degree oven for 10 minutes.
* At this point they can be frozen or refrigerated. Remove from freezer or refrigerator one hour before baking and let rise. Provisions
Bratwurst: Wilson Farm Meat Co., Cartlett, Va. 22019; (703)788-4615. Available in quantities from 1 pound to hundreds of pounds for $2.10 a pound.
Mixed herb vinegar: Faith Mountain Herbs and Antiques, Sperryville, Va. 22740; (703) 987-8824. Catalogues and price lists available upon request. Vinegars by Sheri Woodward from Flossie Williamson's recipes.
Honey: Lyt Wood's Honey, Woodville, Va. 22749; (703) 987-8403.
Fresh produce: Small Farmers' Market, on the side porch of Faith Mountain Herbs and Antiques, Sperryville, Va. 22740; open through the summer on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; also homemade breads, cakes, herb jellies, vinegars etc.