My mom was a lemonade person. Most days, a pitcher of sweet-tart refreshment waited for us in the fridge to accompany our tuna sandwich lunches. Occasionally, though, a bright red fruit punch signaled that something special was on the horizon. On those days she ladled a ruby red concoction of Hawaiian Punch, ginger ale, and various fruit juices from my grandmother’s fancy crystal bowl into the small matching glassware (or paper cups) at backyard barbecues, at birthday parties, and, of course, on Christmas Eve.
Sign up for the Cook's Country Dinner Tonight newsletter
10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.
It surprised me to learn that Mom’s special occasion beverage habit had cultural significance beyond our family. When I moved to Texas, I discovered the Juneteenth custom of drinking red soda water, red soda pop, and strawberry or raspberry lemonade as a tribute to freedom and independence. The connection inspired me to create a few memorials of my own.
Over the years I encouraged families to take charge of their lives with healthy eating and self-care. I crafted menus for parties that recalled the first Emancipation Day celebrations in Texas. And I hosted Soul Summit, a gathering that honored African American contributions to American cooking with informative talks and delicious chef-prepared food on the grounds of Austin’s historically black college over June 19 weekend.
In those pre–social media days, I envisioned Soul Summit as an annual family reunion where aspiring food professionals, such as mixologist Tiffanie Barriere and food writer Nicole A. Taylor, would exchange ideas about the future with the industry’s iconic thought leaders—folks like Adrian Miller, Michael W. Twitty, and Jessica B. Harris. A lot has changed since then.
Hibiscus Iced TeaA beautiful infusion of a bright-red flower, and a heartfelt celebration of those who came before.
On the anniversary of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that made June 19 a national holiday, I invited a few of those friends and colleagues to join me once again—this time on the pages of Cook’s Country. Tiffanie, “The Drinking Coach,” crafted a spectacularly beautiful hibiscus iced tea to capture the spirit and tastes of the original 1866 Juneteenth celebration. In the accompanying article, Adrian discussed the significance of red drinks. And I am doing something totally new with this space—proudly recommending a new cookbook, a collection of Nicole’s recipes celebrating the holiday.
This excerpt from her Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations (2022) summarizes what you can expect: “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. I wrote these recipes and stories as my contribution to a growing genre of Black cookbooks that center creativity over tradition. Books that seek more to chart a future for African American cookery than to celebrate and record its richly deserving past.”
I hope the stories and recipes in Cook's Country encourage you to establish independence day festivities of your own. Plan a picnic. Prepare Hibiscus Iced Tea or make the cocktail recipe with it. Cook from Nicole’s book, which includes a snow cone recipe that drizzles crushed ice with a sweet hibiscus syrup. (It is a perfect hot weather refresher you can enjoy all summer long.) Then sit back, enjoy the fireworks, and watch the next generation soar.