As often happens, Labor Day’s original message may have been lost in all the hoopla of cookouts and block buster sales. And no, the true meaning of Labor Day has nothing to do with white shoes or seersucker. It celebrates the labor movement … without which we might all be working sixteen-hour days assembling widgets or whatnots.
The first Labor Day was celebrated on a Tuesday, the fifth of September 1882 to be exact. There is a bit of confusion as to who is the father of Labor Day. Some records suggest that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, initiated the holiday to honor working men and women. Others believe that a machinist named Matthew Maguire founded the holiday. McGuire, Maguire … tomato, tomahto?
In spite of the kerfuffle over the founder, a parade and a picnic were held in New York. It got off to a slow start until the Jewelers Union of Newark arrived from New Jersey. They brought a band. With music playing, feet slowly began to shuffle. Several hundred union workers lined up and began the march through lower Manhattan. Some bricklayers brought along a second band, more and more workers joined the crowd and history was made. By the time, everyone had wound their way to Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue, an estimated 10,000 workers had joined the parade. Once at the park, kegs were quaffed and picnics were consumed. There was more music, speeches were given and fireworks flared.
One year later, Labor Day was again celebrated on September fifth. Luckily, someone smart figured out that Monday was a much better day for a holiday. In 1884, Labor Day found a permanent place on the first Monday in September. Ten years later, Congress and President Grover Cleveland declared it a federal holiday. After sending in federal marshals and the army to crush a railroad strike and boycott, Cleveland wanted to make nice with the unions. Since the 2016 election is already heating up, you can expect to see more than a few politicians making nice this Labor Day weekend.
As a kid, Labor Day was always a sad day. It was the end of our summer fun. No more late nights playing flashlight tag. It was early to bed and much too early to rise. We went from ragamuffin to schoolgirl in an instant. No more beach sand in our hair, we put on a dress and exchanged our comfortable sneakers with real shoes. Okay, a new dress was always nice but the shoes invariably produced blisters. We needed Band-Aids before the first bell rang.
And that was just the start. Instead of breezing through the neighborhood on our bikes, we were held captive in stuffy classrooms. While daydreaming of lazy days by the water, we amassed an assortment of weighty tomes and a bunch of assignments to go with them. Oh, what a difference a day makes!
How will you celebrate Labor Day this year? For most of us, it’s a hale and hearty salute to the end of summer. These days, there is a lot less marching and a lot more hiking, biking, tennis and golf over the Labor Day Weekend. Then of course, there are the millions who head to mall for back-to-school sales. Do you suppose shoppers will be humming Look for the Union Label as they wind their way through the stacks of jeans and t-shirts?
So unless you are a political junky, ignore the campaigns, wear white, drum up some fun and enjoy the sunshine! Bon appétit!
Romaine with Grilled Corn, Tomato & Avocado
Enjoy this wonderful combination of flavors and textures at your Labor Day Weekend cookout!
Caesar Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2-3 ears fresh corn, about 1-1 1/2 cups corn kernels
2-3 romaine hearts, chopped or torn into pieces
16 grape and/or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and chopped
About 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Make the vinaigrette (recipe follows).
Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to high. Lightly coat the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the corn on the grill and cook on high heat for 2 minutes per side. Remove from the grill. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob.
Put the romaine in a bowl, add enough vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss to combine. Transfer the greens to a platter or individual plates.
Put the corn, tomatoes, avocado and scallions in the bowl, add enough vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss to combine. Artfully arrange them on top of the romaine. Using a vegetable peeler or a course grater, make shavings from the Parmigiano-Reggiano and sprinkle on the salad.
Makes about 1 cup
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-inch chunk red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1 cup (or to taste) extra virgin olive oil
Put the vinegars, mustard, anchovy paste, garlic, onion, and Worcestershire sauce in a blender or small food processor, season with salt and pepper and process until smooth.
With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil and process until smooth. Let the vinaigrette sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator to combine the flavors.
Can be made in advance. Store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.
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Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
What is your favorite way to spend a rainy summer day? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015