This June 19th marks 158 years since Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced to people who were still enslaved that they were legally free. The Emancipation Proclamation, which was made on January 1, 1863, had been suppressed by slave owners in Texas for two and a half years. Jubilation ensued. The first Juneteenth freedom celebration was held the following year.
That inaugural Juneteenth celebration was in Texas, where they believe in doing things bigger and better. Texas barbecue and all its fixings are fitting for Juneteenth. In 2021 President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law establishing Juneteenth as our newest federal holiday. The White House celebrated Juneteenth the other night, and we’ve got a lot of cooking to do!
Traditional Juneteenth foods are: cornbread, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, ribs, pulled pork, fried chicken, collard greens, Cajun gumbo, jambalayla, and potato salad. Make the kinds of foods you would have at a cookout, but be sure to have lots of traditional, celebratory red foods: watermelon, tomato salad, red beans and rice, red velvet cake and strawberry pie.“Watermelon and red soda water are the oldest traditional foods on Juneteenth,” said Dr. Ronald Myers, head of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.
This Juneteenth I will be doing some home cooking to honor the legacy of the Black Texans on the anniversary of Emancipation Day. I will remember the enslaved cooks who brought African cooking to America while cooking some of their traditional recipes which continue to enrich our cooking.
Some of our tomatoes are starting to ripen, but aren’t quite ready for harvesting. It looks like a great time to wander through the watermelons in the produce department, though. I saw yellow watermelons for the first time a couple of weeks ago – they were positively incandescent! They looked as if they could glow in the dark. But we need some bright red watermelon for a proper Juneteenth dish.
Matthew Raiford, the South Carolina Chefarmer, talks about growing up and eating Georgia Rattlesnake watermelons. They had “dark green stripes resemble a diamondback rattlesnake” and were extremely sweet.
This is his recipe for:
Watermelon Steak Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sangria Vinaigrette
Serves 4 to 6
FOR THE SALAD
1 to 11/2 pounds freshly mixed salad greens or microgreens
1 pound heirloom tomatoes of varying sizes and colors, such as Cherokee Purple, Yellow Brandywine, black and yellow cherry tomatoes
1/4 medium seedless watermelon (5 to 10 pounds)
Olive oil for brushing
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE
1 cup traditional red sangria, either homemade or store-bought
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
Prepare your grill for medium- high direct heat, 375° to 450°F.
While the grill comes up to temperature, wash and dry the salad greens, then divide the greens among four to six serving plates. Wash and dry your tomatoes. Slice the whole tomatoes into ½- inch rounds and halve the cherry tomatoes. Divide and arrange the tomato slices evenly among the plates. Set the plates in the refrigerator to chill while you finish the dish.
Slide the watermelon into ¾- to- 1- inch- thick “steaks,” then quarter the steaks into wedges. Brush each side of the watermelon with a little olive oil, then set the wedges on the grill for approximately 3 minutes per side, until you get grill marks. The longer you leave the wedges on, the sweeter they’ll get. Remove the watermelon from the grill and arrange evenly among the salad plates.
Pour the sangria into a large measuring cup with a pouring spout, then whisk the olive oil into the sangria until it makes a nice, loose vinaigrette. Generously dress the salads. Sprinkle the salads with pepper and salt to your liking, then serve.
I also liked this sweet and hot Watermelon Chow Chow. The jalapenos deliver a great kick.
“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible—and there is still so much work to do.” — Barack Obama