Four Chefs Share How Food Shapes Their Juneteenth Celebrations
On Juneteenth, families gather around the table to share food and stories in celebration of freedom and hope. At the center of these celebrations, there is a rich culinary tradition born from recipes that have been passed down and reinvented to resonate with each generation. Here are the stories behind four chefs’ favorite Juneteenth recipes.
"On June 19th, 1865, union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to announce more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in the state were free by executive decree. This day would become known as “Juneteenth.” Growing up, we would celebrate the “Freedom” holiday, as we often would call it, with pies. Strawberry hand pies with a sugar-coated biscuit-like crust, that were baked in the oven and then somewhat “seared” on the stove in a cast iron skillet with bubbling melted butter and sugar. In other words, they were divine, juicy, and sweet, very sweet.
The dough was a versatile mix of all-purpose flour, butter, and sugar that could also be mixed and made into a sweet cobbler crust, which I’ve done here. Since I've made the great state of Georgia my home, I’ve developed a deep affection for peaches. This year we’ll use sweet peaches and bake them into the same ole fashioned biscuit crust in a hot cast iron skillet for our celebration of freedom and now, so can you!"
"On Juneteenth, traditional food is shared such as barbecue, fried chicken, tea cakes, watermelon, strawberry soda, red velvet cake, red beans and rice, etc. There is an emphasis on the color red, as it was a part of the culture of many of the enslaved. The red also symbolizes the blood that was spilled to obtain freedom. In present-day, the celebration has become more widespread in African American communities.
For me and my family, we have chosen to make a week of it, sharing stories, food, and red drink to celebrate the accomplishments of our people. My personal contribution to our celebration has been strawberry cobbler. I usually make it in a cast iron skillet that’s been in my family for generations. It is not considered traditional, but it is easy to make and it offers another option to the tradition of “red.” I serve it with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream."
"This recipe resonates for me on Juneteenth because at Gilliard Farms, chicken was a meal we only made on special occasions. Unless there was a baby shower, wedding or funeral, it wasn’t a regular food I ate; my great grandmother, Florine, would remind my sister, Althea, and I that a good hen will give you an egg every day and that was more meals over a week than one sitting of roasted chicken.
Juneteenth most certainly is a most auspicious day and occasion, which would and should be celebrated with all the foods that are considered “special occasion” foods!"
"We call food that comes from the Neutral Ground kitchen “afro-creole” cuisine as it follows the story of my ancestors from West Africa from across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean, to ports of enslavement in the Americas, and to my hometown of New Orleans. Thanks to many other chefs preserving, interpreting, and celebrating African food ways and the James Beard Foundation’s scholarship program, I’ve been able to spend time and deep contemplation thinking about the food of my people.
As we celebrate Juneteenth and the emancipation of African Americans, dishes like red red help us hold on to the tastes of our original homeland while at the same time marking both the perils and progress of our people on the long journey back to true freedom. "
Cast Iron Peach Cobbler
Growing up, Erika Council and her family celebrated Juneteenth with homemade pies. This recipe is inspired by the biscuit-like crust of those strawberry hand pies and the famous peaches of her home state, Georgia. Just like the strawberry pies of her youth, this peach cobbler promises to be juicy and extra sweet!
Skillet Strawberry Cobbler
The color red is often incorporated with Juneteenth celebrations through foods, like watermelon, red velvet cake, red beans and rice, and strawberry soda, which is what inspired Deborah VanTrece’s strawberry cobbler recipe. While it’s not considered to be a traditional Juneteenth dessert, it embraces the use of the color red as a celebration of freedom and the tradition of gathering to share stories and food with one another.
Spatchcock Chicken with Roasted Vegetables
Cast iron is a beautiful thing—from the evenness of the temperature to the telltale char. Spatchcock chicken is almost as lovable as cast-iron cooking, because by laying the bird out, you get consistent surface contact and that GBD (golden, brown, delicious) skin in fewer than 20 minutes. You might even like spatchcock chicken more than fried chicken—less work, fewer carbs and fats, and all goodness.
West African Red-Red Beans with Coconut Rice, Avocado, & Sweet Plantain
Red-red is a traditional Ghanaian dish made with black eyed peas, red palm oil, and tomatoes. The name comes from the red coloring it develops from the palm oil, which embraces the tradition of serving red colored foods in celebration of Juneteenth. Serve with fried sweet plantains!