BBQ & Prosperity Meals: Juneteenth Food Traditions

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Barbequed Beef Brisket Sandwich. Source: NMAAHC

There are many ways that American people celebrate Juneteenth, but there is no doubt that food and eating meals with your community are integral to celebrations. Let’s dive into some common Juneteenth food traditions and how they came to be.

By Cori Zaragoza, Staff Writer

Juneteenth celebrations usually involve red colored foods, such as strawberry soda, red velvet cake, watermelon, and hibiscus tea. In an Oprah Daily article, Michael Twitty, who is a culinary historian and writer, says that this tradition dates back to times during enslavement. 

Twitty says that red colored foods were ‘rare’ at the time, when most foods eaten were green, brown or white, and so it made the celebration more special.

Red colored foods, such as the red velvet cake seen here, are part of the Juneteenth lore. Source: NMAAHC.
Sodas flavored with red fruits, such as watermelon and strawberry, are common drinks at Juneteenth gatherings. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Additionally, Twitty also explained that many Africans passed Texas through Galveston, the place where Juneteenth was first celebrated. 

“Texas was at the end of the world to the Antebellum South. There were a lot of enslaved Africans who were coming to Texas from the continent and through the Caribbean,” Twitty shared in Oprah Daily. “The color red is highly associated with the cultures that would’ve come through the later years of the trade, which would have been Yoruba and Kongo.”

Barbeque is also a staple cuisine during Juneteenth. In his book, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, historian Robert Moss says that during Juneteenth, “one constant was the barbecue pit, which always took the central place at the festivities.” 

Barbecuing the meat at the Emancipation Day Celebration on June 19, 1900. Source: Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

According to an article by Daniel Vaughn in the Texas Monthly, an account published in an Austin Newspaper in 1871 advertised a celebration “to take place at the barbecue grounds.” Another account in 1886 from Hempstead wrote that “a big barbecue dinner was spread for the multitude.” There is no doubt: celebrating with a grand meal that is shared amongst the community is a firm Juneteenth tradition that continues today. 

Sides that go with the barbeque meat are called “prosperity meals.” Creator of the brand Black Southern Belle, Michiel Perry, in an Oprah Daily article, says that “prosperity meals” are “musts” for any Juneteenth celebration. Examples include collard greens, which are said to bring good fortune, Black-eyed peas and pork, which represent wealth, and corn, which represents gold. 

Fried chicken and ‘prosperity meals’ on the side. Source: NMAAHC

“It’s all about celebrating good luck and wishing for the best,” Perry told Oprah Daily.

Additionally, these foods offer a historical context to what crops were easiest for enslaved people to grow, harvest, and store over the winter. 

Juneteenth traditions vary on where you are located. Michiel Perry also mentioned that crab boils, seasoned shrimp, and fish fries are popular amongst coastal Southern Black communities, where these foods have a history of being abundant and cheap to make. 

Shrimp and grits, a staple for coastal Juneteenth celebrations. Source: NMAAHC

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