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Considering the gravity and the joy of Juneteenth

A tall, clear glass filled with a red drink and crushed ice.
Ray Anthony Barrett’s bissap, a Senegalese-inspired hibiscus drink that’s a staple on his Juneteenth menu.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Today is Juneteenth, which commemorates the date of June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were belatedly informed of their freedom more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. On Thursday President Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday.

Earlier this week Times reporter Donovan X. Ramsey, who covers Black life in Los Angeles, hosted a Juneteenth-centered conversation with four Los Angeles chefs: Ray Anthony Barrett, who runs the pop-up Cinqué (I wrote recently about his yearlong journey of recovery and growth); Kevin Bludso of Bludso’s Bar & Que; John Cleveland of Post & Beam; and Kim Prince of Hotville Chicken.

The roundtable — titled “Red Drinks for Juneteenth: Exploring the Black Foodways of the Juneteenth Holiday and Beyond” — was part of this year’s virtual Los Angeles Times Food Bowl lineup.

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“Red drink,” as Adrian Miller wrote for the Times last year, “can be anything: a carbonated beverage, flavored tea or punch that has a cherry, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry or tropical punch flavor. It just has to be red. Some argue that it is soul food’s official drink. The Juneteenth red drink of choice is Big Red Soda, manufactured in Waco, Texas.” The color represents sacrifice and resilience.

Hearing the panelists talk about their different red drinks of choice clarified how individualized celebrations of Juneteenth can be; each family (or chef) creates personal traditions. Barrett devised his recipe for bissap, a hibiscus-based refresher with restrained sweetness, from a Senegalese beverage. Prince talked Kool Aid, and Bludso reminisced about Nehi strawberry soda. Cleveland detailed the way red drink translates into cocktails at Post & Beam.

The whole exchange is worth watching — for the illuminating thoughts on Juneteenth foods; for Bludso’s sermon about the reclamation of pride in Black foodways (“I think I hear an organ playing behind him … amen!” said Prince when he finished); and for the advice the chefs gave Ramsey on making potato salad for the first time.

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Portrait of chef Kim Prince
Kim Prince, chef-owner of Hotville Chicken in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw, was among the recent panelists discussing Juneteenth with Times reporter Donovan X. Ramsey.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Last year, Miller also wrote, “Although Juneteenth is considered a Texas holiday, it has spread across the country, often supplanting long-standing emancipation celebrations tied to a different date, and it is taking on even greater significance this year amid nationwide protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.”

A year later, as Los Angeles continues emerging from the pandemic, Juneteenth parades, concerts, hikes, pop-ups and rallies have been planned across the city. The ongoing cultural reckoning in the United States has given Juneteenth new, nuanced magnitude and awareness. Watch food writer Osayi Endolyn, in a series of Instagram stories this week, relay some of the holiday’s culinary context. Read in Bon Appetit about the myriad ways that Brooklyn- and Georgia-based cookbook author Nicole Taylor (whose next book will focus on Juneteenth) marks the occasion.

Closer to home, Julissa James reached out to Black artists, poets, organizers and skateboarders in L.A. to find out how they’re reveling. Susan D. Anderson writes about California’s connection to the emancipation roots of Juneteenth. Columnist LZ Granderson writes about the irony of how, at a time of the holiday’s greater recognition, legislation is being pushed around the country to ban critical race theory in school curriculums.

Finally, I recommend a piece published this week by Kevin Young in the New York Times. Young is director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and one of our finest poets; if you don’t know his work, maybe start with “Dear Darkness,” which includes some of the most soul-deep poems on food written in the English language.

About today, Young has this to say: “When Juneteenth becomes a national holiday, will it still remain Black? Can it be both serious and playful, and recognize, as the poet Toi Derricotte reminds us, that ‘joy is an act of resistance’? Can we cook and laugh while we remember, remaining rooted in tradition while telling the full story of America and Black life in it?”

Virtual forum on food waste and accessibility

Los Angeles Times Food Bowl will host a free, virtual food forum with discussions surrounding the issues of “food waste, food accessibility and the relationship to agriculture” from 6 to 7 p.m. June 23. Panelists include Michael Flood, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank president and chief executive; Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; chef Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner of Socalo and the Border Grill restaurants; and Crop Swap L.A. founder Jamiah E. Hargins. RSVP online to view the event.

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It’s also Father’s Day on Sunday, of course. Read Jo Stouggard’s moving tribute to her dad; she traces the sometimes-fractured arc of their relationship through omurice (rice topped with an omelet), pork carnitas and a delicious-sounding concoction she called “country chicken.”

On the same theme: Ben Mims talks with author and TV writer Lolis Eric Elie about the legacy of Black barbecuers, memories of barbecuing with his father, and the father-son stories that shaped the book he recently wrote with James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott.

Restaurants could once again fill their dining rooms to capacity on June 15: Jenn Harris reported on how “cautiously optimistic” operators are navigating a new normal.

Jenn and Lucas Kwan Peterson delve into four premade-food earthquake kits as part of The Times’ series on preparedness called Unshaken.

And a bonus shout-out for this beautiful sonnet to Chinatown’s new generation of culinary riches by Tejal Rao in the NYT.

Smoked chicken, one of several classic recipes from pitmaster Rodney Scott. (Photo by Jerrelle Guy)
Smoked chicken, one of several classic recipes from pitmaster Rodney Scott in the new cookbook “Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ” written with Lolis Eric Elie.
(Photo by Jerrelle Guy)


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