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Beloved Black cookbooks for Juneteenth.

LA Johnson/NPR

Juneteenth commemorates the day that enslaved Texans found out — more than two years after Emancipation Day — that they were free. It’s also a day known for celebratory meals and red drinks. And the holiday, originally celebrated mostly in Texas, is gaining popularity around the country; in fact, on June 15, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill that would make Juneteenth a legal public holiday.

But as the Juneteenth becomes more widespread, we wondered: Is there a risk that certain people (and corporations) will try to keep the food and lose the meaning?

Plus: In this week’s episode of the podcast, you’ll hear Code Switch correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates and food historian Rafia Zafar reference some of their favorite Black cookbooks. So we put together a list of some classics, which blend together recipes and African American history.

  • The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis

    A Taste of Country Cooking

    Lewis writes lovingly of her childhood in Freetown, a small Virginia hamlet founded by the formerly enslaved, and proudly shares the history and recipes her family and other Freetown residents enjoyed through the years. This is a love story to Freetown, the people who built it, and the power of good food prepared with care.

  • Vibration Cooking, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor

    Vibration Cooking

    The late, beloved NPR essayist and contributor grew up on the Georgia Sea Islands in that lap of what’d now called Gullah-Geechee culture, and was a proponent of that culture (and its cuisine) well before hipsters discovered the joy of okra. The title comes from Grosvenor’s process: “I don’t measure things,” she tells readers; “I cook by vibration.”

  • Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, Norma Jean and Carole Darden

    Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine

    When it was first published in the 70s, Fashionistas and foodies alike fell for this charming recipe-laced memoir from former model turned caterer Norma Jean and her realtor-turned-caterer sister, Carole. Their stories of traveling each summer from their Newark, NJ hometown to visit their relatives in Wilson, NC were rich in family history and treasured recipes. The book was reissued in 2016 as a 25th anniversary edition.

  • The African American Heritage Cookbook, Caroline Quick Tillery

    Heritage Cookbook

    This cookbook comes from the kitchens of the famed Tuskegee Institute, which taught its students pragmatic life-skills that would allow them to support themselves upon graduation. Shots of Tuskegee through the years are scattered throughout, as well a some of its founder’s favorites, including the ginger cakes that made Tuskegee president Booker T Washington vow to become free when he was a child—just so he could taste one.

  • The Cooking Gene, Michael Twitty

    The Cooking Gene

    Food historian Twitty travels to West Africa to trace the route so many of our enslaved ancestors were forced to travel, bringing foods from home they then cultivated in the New World. Twitty was awarded a coveted James Beard medal for The Cooking Gene; shows how so much of what we cherish as Southern American food actually had its origins across the water.

  • High on the Hog, Jessica B Harris

    High On The Hog

    Harris has spent decades tracing the skeins that connect the African continent to the American one. Harris travels the diaspora and tells the story of how Africa deliciously imbues many of our favorite American dishes. She shows that at table, we are all cousins. (Also: be sure to see her 4-part series of the same name streaming now on Netflix.)

  • Vegan Soul Kitchen, Bryant Terry

    Vegan Soul Kitchen

    To many, the term “soul food” immediately evokes images of mouth-watering, slow-cooked meat. But Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen explores the literal “roots” (and leaves and fruits) of Black cooking by dreaming up traditional Black Southern recipes that are plant-based, and no less delicious than the originals.

  • Jubilee! Two Centuries of African American Cooking, Toni Tipton-Martin


    Tipton-Martin made a big splash a few years ago with The Jemima Code, a stunning history of often-overlooked Black women chefs and cooks. Jubilee! Continues her expertise with history and a slew of recipes that will make you want to cook while you’re reading them. (Which is how I fell down the Buttermilk Biscuit rabbit hole….)

This week’s guests:

Want to learn more?

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Reed-Gordon wrote a book called On Juneteenth, and talked to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about the historical legacy of the holiday, including in her own family.

“Black Joy—Not Corporate Acknowledgment—Is the Heart of Juneteenth” is the argument Wellesley professor Kellie Carter Jackson made last summer for the Atlantic, after lots of companies and states recognized the day as a holiday for the first time during 2020’s “racial reckoning.”

And, if Karen’s discovery of Juneteenth recipes on Betty Crocker’s website intrigued you, here’s where you can find it.

This episode was produced by Summer Thomad and Brianna Scott. It was edited by Leah Donnella. Original art by LA Johnson.

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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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