Jollof rice, strawberry soda, coconut collard greens, Ghanaian kebabs: The menu for a public potluck slated for Friday’s Juneteenth holiday is the stuff of mouthwatering, and soul-feeding, dreams.
But like so many things these days, this spread will be virtual, as about 70 black culinary creatives from around the country are set to participate in an online celebration. Dubbed the 2020 Juneteenth Cookout Takeover, the project was launched to encourage people to celebrate the holiday, which marks the anniversary of the date in 1865 when the last remaining enslaved people in Texas were declared free, and to harness the collective audience of the participants to highlight their food traditions and those of the African diaspora.
Each cook contributed a recipe — the roster was edited to make sure there wasn’t overlap — to the widely shared menu, and many will be cooking their dishes live on Friday on platforms from Instagram to YouTube.
Meiko Temple, a blogger who shares recipes and stories at Meiko and the Dish, dreamed up the idea just weeks ago with Aaron Hutcherson of the blog the Hungry Hutch. The two are part of a group that typically does something similar for Black History Month. But they decided that the recent news — the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests demanding justice and the end of racism in our institutions, a global pandemic that is disproportionately ravaging communities of color, and high unemployment that is hitting black people hardest — necessitated another coming-together.
“It made us realize that this is the time to stand for our community and to bring awareness to a holiday that isn’t nationally celebrated,” she says. And it was an opportunity, she said, for them to amplify one another’s voices and creations. While she says getting people to sign on for the usual annual recipe collective “is like pulling teeth,” and often draws 20 to 30 contributors, the idea for a Juneteenth celebration immediately caught on.
Fellow food writers flooded her Google document with dishes drawing on their own heritages and tastes, as well as the traditions of the holiday. Red foods, such as Temple’s strawberry cornbread skillet cobbler, represent the blood and resilience of enslaved people. Lemon pepper wings, from Angela Davis of the Kitchenista Diaries (a frequent contributor to The Washington Post’s food coverage), are a nod to a dish that’s close to a religion in Atlanta.
“You see things from the Caribbean, things from Africa,” Temple says. “A lot of times we pigeonhole black cuisine into ‘soul food,’ but there’s such a diversity of ingredients, of techniques. I’m so inspired by that.”
The same sorrows that inspired the event are the backdrop for what is often a joyous day of cookouts and gatherings with friends and families. But with many companies this year giving employees the holiday off, and opportunities for leave-the-house socializing few, many people might find themselves in their kitchens, in search of inspiration.
Temple says the campaign and array of recipes might tempt not just black cooks, for whom the holiday has long been a part of their lives, but others looking to learn about its significance and culinary traditions. “You can start with a recipe and a simple curiosity,” she says. “It could open a whole conversation, a door opening, and you could step into something you might not know about.”