Juneteenth food honors ancestors, freedom with traditional recipes

Juneteenth food honors ancestors, freedom with traditional recipes

Scenes of Juneteenth at Knoxville College

Hundreds of people celebrate Juneteenth at a public event on the Knoxville College campus on Saturday, June 19, 2021

Knoxville News Sentinel

Tender barbecue pork ribs, hearty kale and even hot Nashville chicken are washed down this June with iced hibiscus tea or strawberry soda — more commonly known as “red drink.”

These traditional dishes are a “taste of freedom,” Eugene Thomas said on an episode of the Netflix series “High on the pig”, which explored the significance of Juneteenth celebrations.

Thomas is a descendant of Juneteenth, meaning members of his family learned of the Emancipation Proclamation until 1865, two years after it was issued.

Dishes, desserts and drinks with shades of red are extremely important for the holiday. Many culinary historians say that the color symbolizes the color sacrifice and bloodshed of those who have been enslaved.

But the color was also of spiritual and philosophical importance to the West Africans who arrived (particularly in Texas) during the later years of the Atlantic slave trade. Red crops such as hibiscus, kola nuts and watermelon were brought from Africa, and the bright colors were used by the slaves for festive meals.

“It’s tied to tradition versus something else, and that just has a lot to do with our history and the things we’ve learned from our (ancestors),” chef Kenyatta Ashford told Knox News about the traditional dishes.

Ashford, who won an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2021, owns an Afro-Creole restaurant Neutral ground in Chattanooga. Ashford said it is important for his restaurant to share the influence and knowledge of the African diaspora on its dishes.

“We need to reclaim those things and make sure we let people know about our cultural contributions and the significance of the things that we’ve been a part of and that we’re helping to establish here in the United States, especially in food culture,” he said. he. food is soul food.”

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The food that ‘brings us joy’

Celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when black slaves in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation and were freed.

Although it didn’t become a federal holiday until 2021, Juneteenth has been celebrated across the South since 1866. Today, dishes from the slavery era and rooted in West African tradition are often served on the table.

It took family—and sometimes a whole community effort—to make these meals, especially when preparing smoked meats and barbecue.

Barbecue beef, pork and chicken are also considered red foods and were dishes in early June. Common side dishes such as black-eyed peas, corn, cornbread, kale, cabbage, potatoes, and yams are known as prosperity meals for good luck and fortune.

Unfortunately, many of these culturally significant dishes were turned into racist stereotypes against black Americans. But now that Juneteenth is a national holiday, Ashford sees a way to change perceptions.

“Regardless of our cultural background and ethnic background… we all understand the joy of a well-prepared delicious meal,” he said. “It brings us joy.”

To get people to the table this Juneteenth, Ashford shared with Knox News a recipe for “Red Red,” a West African black-eyed pea stew.

Simple West African Red Red


  • 1 pound black-eyed pea
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup palm oil or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • ½ tablespoon garlic
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 cups to 3 cups reserved liquid from cooking black-eyed peas
  • 1 tablespoon vegetarian stock powder
  • 2 to 3 green onions chopped
  • Salt and pepper as needed
  • 1 habanero pepper or hot pepper

Travel directions

  1. Rinse and pluck dry black-eyed peas, discarding any foreign objects. Add beans to a large pot covered with 3 to 4 inches of cold water.
  2. Cover and leave overnight for 6 to 8 hours
  3. Drain the soaked beans, rinse and place the beans in a Dutch oven. Boil the beans for about 50 to 60 minutes or until tender
  4. Drain the cooked beans and set aside, reserving some liquid for the next steps.
  5. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat until hot. Saute the onions in the oil for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, ginger, garlic, paprika and stock powder. Cook while stirring for about a minute.
  7. Add 2 cups of bean liquid and bring to a boil. Continue to cook the sauce, stirring occasionally.
  8. Add the beans, green onions and remaining bean liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. Adjust the spices to taste. Adjust the consistency of the stew with reserved cooking liquid. Serve with fried sweet plantains.