Chef Nicole A. Taylor releases a new cookbook, “Watermelon & Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations,” in honor of Juneteenth. Juneteenth honors June 19, 1865, the day Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. He told more than 250,000 enslaved Black Texans that they were free more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Chef Taylor writes that her Juneteenth celebrations were “a time to block out the extraneous noise of the workaday world and feast on food and freedom.”
Although many celebrated the holiday, it was first recognized as an official holiday last year. And in honor of the holiday, Chef Taylor sat down and discussed her third cookbook. “Watermelon & Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations” is the first collection of recipes of its kind. In addition, she notes that this time of the year is beautiful because “so many people—Black and white, all Americans—are excited about Juneteenth being this newly nationally recognized holiday.”
The history of Juneteenth is mainly rooted in Texas; however, the emancipation days were widespread across the south. “We know that emancipation days happened across the American South because enslaved people did not find out immediately that the President had signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” she said. “For me, Juneteenth connects Black Americans to freedom, to Jubilee, to a new hope. To a generation that wasn’t suffering.”
How Did Juneteenth Inspire Chef Taylor’s Cookbook?
Chef Taylor explained that she never expected to write about this particular cookbook. She is a southerner, and after celebrating the holiday for years, but didn’t get the idea until 2020.
“The whole time, in the back of my mind, I was not feeling confident that I could pull it off,” she said. “But sadly and proudly, after the 2020 summer uprisings with all of the sorrow and the pain that we as Americans and particularly Black Americans were experiencing, I knew to cope with it centering on Black joy and Black celebrations. And Juneteenth would be a perfect guide.”
While the new cookbook includes over 75 recipes and eight chapters, Chef Taylor explained that her favorite chapter was “Potato, Green, & Fruit Salad.” “It really shows the bounty of summer,” she explains. “You get to see tomatoes in my tomato and eggplant salad. And I love tomatoes at the height of summer. It also reminds me of growing up in the south where corn was abundant in the summer.”
The Meaning Behind The Title
Titling a book is never easy. The title holds so much weight and must capture the essence of the entire book. Chef Taylor admits that she came up with it while riding the NYC subway. “I remember my mother telling me the story of when you see a red bird, and it lands close to you, that’s someone in your family that’s passed away. It’s an ancestor coming back to say hello, so blowing them a kiss is good luck.”
She states watermelon is one fruit many love, making it the perfect choice to celebrate the traditions. “I feel it’s just a beautiful way of honoring the past, present, and future of Juneteenth.”
You can purchase a copy of Chef Taylor’s book here!
What is your favorite meal to cook on Juneteenth? Comment below!