Celebrated every year on June 19th, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of those who were enslaved in the United States. History buffs likely know that the Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863. But news of the Civil War ending and the enslaved receiving their freedom didn’t make its way to Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865.
Following emancipation, the annual Juneteenth celebration became “a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members,” according to the leading website for the holiday. Juneteenth has risen in prominence in recent years, and in 2021 President Joe Biden made it a federal holiday.
Like many holidays, food plays a vital role in Juneteenth festivities. While typical Juneteenth fare is heavy on flavor, it also boasts a rich history that helps tell the story of Emancipation Day. Here’s what you should know about food and drink on Juneteenth.
What Role Does Food Play?
A celebration isn’t complete without a spread of dishes that have been cooked with love, and Juneteenth is no different. During Juneteenth, food is there to nourish, but it’s also present for more symbolic reasons. You can’t talk about food on Juneteenth without discussing soul food, red foods, and prosperity meals.
What Is Soul Food?
With roots in America that date back many decades, soul food undoubtedly needs to be on the menu on June 19. But what exactly is soul food? It’s a cuisine that’s traditionally prepared and enjoyed by African-Americans in the Southern United States. It usually consists of dishes that incorporate beans, greens, cornmeal, and pork. Each of those key ingredients can be used to create a number of soul food staples like cornbread, fried fish, stew, and the not-always-fan-favorite, chitterlings.
What Is The Significance Of Red Food On Juneteenth?
There’s a richness and exuberance in the color red that resonated for those who first celebrated Juneteenth. Interestingly enough, there is also a more diaspora-driven reason why the color red is so important to Juneteenth dishes.
“Texas was at the end of the world to the Antebellum South. There were a lot of enslaved Africans who were coming to Texas from the continent and through the Caribbean. The color red is highly associated with the cultures that would’ve come through the later years of the trade, which would have been Yoruba and Kongo,” culinary historian and writer Michael Twitty shared with Oprah Daily.
And as Chef Millie Peartree wrote, the color red also “symbolizes and is the representation of the bloodshed and resilience of enslaved people.”
From specialty drinks to main courses, there is certainly no shortage of red foods at a proper Juneteenth celebration. The most popular red foods are Juneteenth Punch, red velvet cupcakes, and hot links.
What Is A Prosperity Meal And Why Is It Served?
Many of us are likely familiar with the intoxicating aroma of a pot of black-eyed peas cooking on New Year’s Eve. And on the burner next to it? A simmering pot of collard greens. These foods are prepared on December 31th to ring in the new year and bring good fortune.
Six months later, on Juneteenth, those two dishes and others are summoned once again for a similar purpose. Prosperity meals on Juneteenth are “all about celebrating good luck and wishing for the best,” said Michiel Perry, lifestyle expert and creator of the brand Black Southern Belle. The meals often include side dishes like black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread, cabbage, and sweet potatoes.
What Are The Most Popular Juneteenth Dishes?
Whether you’re a Patti in the kitchen or more of a beginner, there’s a variety of Juneteenth-inspired recipes you can whip up for the holiday. They range in difficulty from simple to “just leave that dish to your auntie.”
Cornbread is always a great place to start, and it’s a must on Juneteenth. It’s simple enough for just about anyone to make, and even kids can get in on this one. To make cornbread, combine bacon fat (or canola oil), cornmeal, baking soda, kosher salt, honey, egg, buttermilk, and butter. Bake and you’re all set!
If you really want to chef it up on Juneteenth, fried catfish is the way to go. Dredging and frying are a must, and adding your own special seasonings is always welcome.
Feeling thirsty? You can’t go wrong with a cold glass of Juneteenth Punch. This ruby red drink combines cranberry juice, ginger ale (or 7Up), strawberry sorbet, and a handful of fruit juices. It’s particularly refreshing in the sweltering June heat.
No matter how you celebrate Juneteenth this year, paying homage to those who came before us, showing respect, and enjoying good eats are all necessary ingredients.
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