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BOOK REVIEW:

Watermelon & red birds : a cookbook for Juneteenth and black celebrations

This is the first cookbook devoted entirely to celebrating the significance of Juneteenth. “The title combines a native-born African fruit–watermelon–with the African American and Native American adage that red birds flying in sight are ancestors returning to spread beautiful luck.” Writer and scholar Nicole A. Taylor states, “This is my declaration of independence from the traditional boundaries of so-called Southern food and soul food. It’s my fulfillment of the dreams of those domestics, inventors, bakers, and bartenders who form the base of my family tree. It is my statement that we are free to fly.”  And fly she does, taking all of us along with her on a joyful celebration and historical overview of this holiday, what it means and what it references. She writes about American history in its full richness and its fault lines, and how this country can be stronger and wiser for examining all parts of its history. A “theme of Juneteenth is one of freedom delayed,” which  has recurred in American history: 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed to make sure the freedom to vote was not denied based on race, but there were actions (poll taxes, grandfather clauses, lynchings, and terrorism) that thwarted the intention; 1920, women were allowed to vote; 1947, Native Americans were given the right to vote; 1952, McCarran-Walter Act allowed people of Asian descent to immigrate and become citizens; 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it law that Black Americans could gain federal protection against discrimination during elections. Celebrating the resilience and durability of this country through history and food, Nicole A. Taylor has written a unique cookbook.                        

Just as the holiday celebrates freedom, so does Taylor who says this book is not dedicated to classic recipes. Many of her recipes riff on the basics, with plenty of encouragement for us to to do the same when cooking.  However, according to her, at cookouts and BBQs there is one side dish, and who makes it, that stands out above all others–potato salad.  Taylor says, “Potato salad is the most revered African American cookout and barbecue side dish.  It overshadows the rack of ribs; you can fight me on that point ... Do you know what it means to be asked to bring the potato? You have been crowned. The family bows before you.”  She admits to being only a princess.

Nicole A. Taylor’s chapters cover the following important topics: Spices, Blends Hot Sauces & Pickled Things; Red Drinks (alcoholic and non); food found at Festivals & fFirs; Cookout & BBQ; Potato, Green & Fruit Salads; Snow Cones, Ice Pops & Ice Cream; Cake! Cake! Cake! (And a Couple of Pies); Everyday Juneteenth; Notes on Juneteenth, which has a wealth of information: books, websites, articles. The book is lavishly illustrated with full-page color photographs; a complete index; the recipes are easy to follow and each one is prefaced with commentary, some personal and some historical, but always refreshingly honest, joyful and surprising.

Check out the Juneteenth Book List in LAPL Reads.

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