Author and culinarian Nicole A. Taylor’s love for Black heritage is palpable and the foundation of a storied career as a food writer, book author, and producer. She champions the preservation of Black southern foodways and the insertion of that food history into an American (and global) narrative about food. Her latest book, Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations (Simon & Schuster, May 31, 2022) joins a list of Black lifestyle and cookbooks that are go-to heritage books. It is also a timely book for Juneteenth National Independence Day, the newest federal holiday.
If Juneteenth is new to you, then the 75 recipes, essays, and resource guide will be a proper introduction. We asked a group of Black Southern Belles to share their Juneteenth memories and tell us which Watermelon and Red Birds recipes struck their fancy and tugged at their made-in-Texas heartstrings.
Native Houstonian Kaylon Beck, Beck&Call Hospitality, is excited that Emancipation Park, a park purchased by Black clergy to celebrate freedom days in segregated Houston, will be hosting a weekend full of events to include concerts with a local vendor pop-up and grant opportunities for small businesses. Beck says, “Juneteenth celebrations include rejoicing over red drinks and comfort food. The recipes we [sic] chose were strawberry lemonade, peanut butter whoopie pies, and sour cream and chive cornbread.” She stated that strawberry lemonade is her favorite red drink, while Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies remind her to celebrate “our history and commemorate our African American inventors such as George Washington Carver.”
Strawberry Lemonade from Watermelon & Red Birds
Katherine Bush Felton from Marshall, Texas, is the wife of Wiley College president Herman J. Felton Jr. She fondly remembers Juneteenth community events in her native Seattle but adds, “My favorite Juneteenth memory is more recent, during the pandemic, without communal gatherings being available, my husband and I decided to take a road trip to Galveston, Texas to provide Trey, our eight-year-old at the time, an in-person Juneteenth history lesson, complete with a stop at a local ice cream shop.” Her favorite recipe from Watermelon and Red Birds is Kaylah’s Teacakes. “Teacakes are simple but have a bold, subtle flavor profile that fosters a feeling of understated elegance. The simple list of ingredients and cooking method had me intrigued, after all, in my opinion, the best desserts are often the simplest.”
Robin Wilson as a kid serving Red Drink at Juneteenth Celebration
Clean design expert, personality, and author Robin Wilson was born and raised in Austin, Texas. You can say Juneteenth has been an essential part of her lifestyle since childhood. “Juneteenth for a Texan meant studying the subject in class and then going home to hear the ‘real story’ from my elders. I love the fact that it is like the 4th of July for the Black community – one day that can be celebrated by everyone from any religion. It is about food and family,” she says. These days, she will log onto Ancestry.com to review the family tree and discuss ancestors with her daughter from her home in NYC. Wilson was drawn to the Beef Ribs and Strawberry Lemonade recipes in Watermelon and Red Birds. “I remember drinking Big Red soda as a child on Juneteenth, the one day a year that we were allowed to have lots of sugary drinks. And the BBQ was over-the-top for a Texas kid – plates of ribs, sausages, potato salad, coleslaw, peach cobbler, and cakes. Plus, someone was always making hand-churned ice cream. So many memories!”
BBQ is a must for any Juneteenth Menu
In the introduction of Watermelon and Red Birds, Nicole A. Taylor recalls her agent predicting the book would be Taylor’s “magnum opus.” With Juneteenth growing in popularity as a federal observance, one can imagine that her agent may be right with multiple editions and updates in the years to come.
Simon and Schuster: Watermelon and Red Birds by Nicole A. Taylor