Building a Juneteenth menu for the 21st century, one recipe at a time
African Americans crave locally harvested USDA Prime freedom, coast to coast, in all its bittersweetness.
On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, informing the people of Texas that all slaves were now free. For the more than 250,000 enslaved black Texans, the impact of the order was not immediate; some plantation owners hid the information, delaying until another harvest season. But a year later, in 1866, unofficial June 19 celebrations began in Texas.
I celebrated Juneteenth with the brightest people in the culinary space at a Soul Summit, a symposium founded by publisher and author Toni Tipton-Martin in Austin, Texas, that celebrates the food history of Afro- Americans; in New York, on a rooftop with my dearest friends; and in Georgia, nestled in the woods with the humidity enveloping guests. I sat under my carport with peeling paint above and mosquitoes buzzing around a plethora of foods covered in foil: plump Italian chicken sausages bought at the supermarket, cakes with buttery sweets, pork chops bathed in smoke and spices and summer salads of heirloom and roasted tomatoes. eggplant.
I’ve hosted plated dinners with ceramic platters laden with roasted whole fish and summer bean salad, then carefully passed around a table draped in tea-dyed linens, accompanied by red rum punch. . One year I hosted a pop-up at Pelzer’s Pretzels, a now-closed small-batch pretzel business, and served root beer floats drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with Philadelphia-style pretzel pieces, and a another time I hosted a neighborhood dinner and farm tour for the Brownsville Community Culinary Center and Café. Guests feasted on Gullah Geechee classics like red rice and okra stew. Each of these celebrations was an opportunity to block out the extraneous sounds of the working world and feast on food and freedom. Over the years, Juneteenth has become my annual tradition, even when I’m miles away from the places I call home.
Like the Great Black Migration itself, Juneteenth traveled by train and automobile from his birthplace in Texas to every state in the Union where Jim Crow was not the de facto governor. Daniel Vaughn writes in a 2015 Texas Monthly Juneteenth barbecue article: “Barbecue wasn’t the only item on the menu. With mid-June being the start of watermelon season in Texas, this has also found a place on the table. The Galveston Daily News reported on statewide celebrations in 1883, including one in San Antonio where “twenty-three wagonloads of watermelons…were destroyed with marvelous rapidity.” By 1933, the menu had been cemented by The Dallas Morning News. “Watermelon, barbecue and red lemonade will be consumed in quantity.”
Hidden in the history of Juneteenth are small moments of personal triumph that we will never know. The whole of society was transformed by emancipation, but how did it affect the lives of individuals? Noisemaker-worthy celebrations are often followed by quieter victories.
My great-grandfather George Taylor left Oconee, Ga. — a town nearly 10 miles south of the University of Georgia, named for the Oconee branch of the Creek Indians or Muskogean Tribe — for a brighter future. prosperous in Athens, Ga., and my great -aunts, two aunts and uncle remained close for the most part. Then Hubert “Boley” Taylor, a Korean War veteran, married Mildred. They gave birth to my mother.
My mother, Janis Marie Taylor, graduated from high school in 1972 and voted for the first time in the presidential election that year (a victory her own mother never had). She earned her living as a worker in a chicken factory. More than forty hours a week dismembering chickens; rest was a luxury. In a day, I probably take as many coffee breaks and rejuvenation breaks as she had in a week. My midday lunches can sometimes take two hours or more. My mother showed me how to hustle; my experiences teach me that it’s good to take a break.
Even so, I’m unlearning the urge to plow all day and rush for the next. I’m taking a break.
In silence, I connect with my whole self in a way that my ancestors were not allowed. No place was reserved for them; their blue-collar jobs didn’t include a lactation room, time off to vote, an atmosphere to talk openly about anxiety, or host a birthday lunch with cake and candles. I set my weekly intentions knowing that my responsibility is to remember to fill my heart with gratitude, to say the names of my ancestors when the room is full and no one is listening.
Even on days that are not demarcated as holidays or holy days or special days, we must do special things for ourselves and those who are dear to us. These little everyday traditions, these molecules of the ordinary, can have power and meaning, if allowed. Rituals of leisure and care bear witness as much to what Juneteenth made possible as do voting rights and desegregated buses. These are the rituals that I want my son, Garvey, to embrace, feel and understand as important parts of the Juneteenth legacy.
Receipts: Watermelon Ginger Beer | Very Green Coleslaw with Grilled Poblanos | Chicken with peaches and molasses | Strawberry Sumac Cake
This article is excerpted from “Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations” by Nicole A. Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2022).
And to drink …
Juneteenth is a great opportunity to support the growing number of black winemakers in the United States and around the world. The color red is associated with Juneteenth, and this chicken dish, with its sweet glaze, will pair beautifully with a rich red wine. I would be particularly drawn to fruity reds like Zinfandel, Grenache and Pinot Noir. California produces excellent Grenache-based wines, full of fruit flavors but concentrated and understated. And many zinfandels combine spicy fruit flavors with manageable alcohol levels, which for zin means less than 15%. Brown Estate in Napa Valley makes excellent Zinfandel, and André Hueston Mack offers a selection of delicious Oregon wines under the Maison Noir label. ERIC ASIMOV