Labor Day has been a thing since 1882—so just slightly older than Sunset. It was federalized in 1894 by the government to recognize those who work in laborious jobs and offer them a day off to show that their contribution to society doesn’t go unnoticed. The original proposal for the holiday suggested parades be held alongside activities for workers and their families to enjoy. Floats made their way down main streets and speeches were given by prominent figures in the labor movement. Following the industrial revolution, the majority of Americans were working class and could definitely benefit from a break. Labor Day served as a day to rest and relax, as well as commemorate the strides made in the late 1800s for fair wages, working conditions, and quality of life.
Now, the federal holiday is celebrated by sleeping in, throwing down on the grill, and swapping stories over drinks with friends or colleagues. While many summertime holidays are celebrated with a barbecue or get-together, Labor Day comes at the perfect time to pay homage to the warm months that came before it. With a bounty of produce in season—like peaches, pears, mint, basil, mushrooms, and more—for your spreads and sides, the opportunities for snacking are endless.
That’s why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite recipes for Labor Day that take advantage of ingredients that are not only indulgent but also in season for your well-deserved day off.
1 of 7Victor Protasio
Braised Short Ribs with Pear, Ginger, and Star Anise
This Chinese-inspired take on short ribs gets its freshness from Bosc pears cooked in the sauce, plus more pears on top in a raw relish. If you have time, cook the recipe a day ahead. The flavors will be deeper, and you can more easily lift the fat from the sauce.
2 of 7Alana Kysar
Hawaiian-Style Grilled Chicken
With a dead-simple marinade, this chicken comes out tangy and sweet, with just the right hint of bitterness. The only trick is: Turn it frequently, to keep the sugars from burning.
3 of 7Thomas J. Story
Whole Grilled Channel Island Rock Cod
At the Surfrider Hotel, chef Jacob Wetherington wraps local rock cod with olive leaves and foraged bay laurel, and garnishes it with fresh fennel flowers. We substitute more readily available fennel stalks.
4 of 7Annabelle Breakey
Herb-Stuffed Flank Steak
This rolled and tied steak is quick but impressive enough for company. Grilled carrots sprinkled with fresh herbs and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil make an easy side dish.
5 of 7Iain Bagwell
Lamb and Pomegranate Shawarma
For the easiest prep and biggest hit of flavor, slather the meat with tangy pomegranate-molasses marinade ahead of time; ditto for the tahini dressing. Then it’s quick to grill! Slice the lamb, mix it with mint, pomegranate seeds, and the dressing, and set it out with lettuce and warm pita breads.
6 of 7Annabelle Breakey
Roasted Halibut with Tahini Sauce
This fish gets its Middle Eastern tang from zaatar, a spice blend that’s having a big moment, and its sesame-rich sauce. A fine side dish: oven-roasted diced potatoes (start them before the fish) tossed with parsley and olive oil. Couscous would be good too.
7 of 7Victor Protasio
Gaucho Steak with Four-Herb Chimichurri
The flavor in this dish, like its author Guy Fieri, just doesn’t stop. The sharp, slightly herby marinade tenderizes and flavors the meat and makes a great bridge to the chimichurri.
1 of 6Ngoc Minh Ngo
Meyer Lemon Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
A polenta cake from pastry chef Hannah Buoye, of A16 Rockridge in Oakland, was the model for this dense, moist dessert. As the sliced lemons bake under the cake and absorb butter and brown sugar, they take on a marmalade-like quality. Be sure the cake is fully baked before you remove it from the oven, or it may sink.
2 of 6Thomas J. Story
Dutch Oven Rhubarb and Hazelnut Crumble
To create this rustic dessert, pastry chef Mandy Groom of Olympia Provisions in Portland added orange, cardamom, and a crunchy topping to her nana’s rhubarb pie filling recipe. “It says love and comfort to me,” says Groom.
3 of 6Thomas J. Story
American ice box cake meets Filipino crema de fruta (a layered cake often made with canned fruit cocktail) in Isa Fabro’s fresh, creamy dessert. “It’s American and Filipino at the same time–like me!” says the chef at Unit 120 in Los Angeles. You’ll need a 9-in. springform pan, and a small offset spatula is helpful for spreading. Mangoes may need a few days to ripen in a paper bag.
4 of 6Thomas J. Story
Blood Orange and Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet
The marvelous merger of orange and chocolate gets even better when you pair blood oranges’ raspberry nuances with dark chocolate and a little Campari for complexity. The herbal, slightly bitter liqueur also helps keep the sorbet from getting icy.
5 of 6Greg DuPree
Pistachio Cream Cake
This cake comes studded with pistachios and a hint of fresh citrus flavor. Don’t skip the sesame custard that adds another creamy layer to this delicious sponge.
6 of 6Thomas J. Story
Lemon Lava Cakes
For a lighter, more refreshing take on traditional chocolate lava cake, we subbed in white chocolate for the dark and added creamy lemon curd. The center of the dessert still comes out enticingly molten at serving time. Top with berries for a bright burst of color and flavor.
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