Tag Archives: Juneteenth

Benne Wafers for Juneteenth

Today marks Juneteenth, the day when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, over two years after the proclamation had been issued on January 1, 1863. This year, Juneteenth celebrations are especially poignant across America. Though initially most popular in Texas, celebrations commemorating Juneteenth have spread throughout African-American communities in the US, incorporating regional foodways along the way. A dish from the African Diaspora Gullah community in the South Carolina lowcountry and sea islands that is perfect for any Juneteenth celebration is the Benne wafer. Benne wafers have deep roots in African cuisine, and their name comes from the Bantu language group word for sesame seed. After being brought over from Africa, sesame was cultivated in the South Carolina lowcountry by enslaved Africans. The African-American Gullah community created and popularized these cookies using the fruits of the sesame crop, and they are now a staple of lowcountry cooking (and can be either savory or sweet). Benne wafers are easy and delicious to make at home, and you can try sweet recipes from King Arthur Flour, Simply Recipes and Serious Eats. You can also make a savory version of Benne wafers, like these recipes from Edna Lewis and Toni Tipton-Martin. I tried the Simply Recipes version (the result of which you can see below) and we love them!

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Celebrating Juneteenth with a feast

Today marks Juneteenth, commemorating the day on which enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were finally told of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, two years after it was issued on January 1, 1863. Since then, Juneteenth has been a celebrated by the African-American community as a day of celebration and reflection. Juneteenth is a state holiday in Texas since the 1970s, but there have been calls to make it a national holiday. One of the classic celebrations of Juneteenth is the family and community cookout, full of recipes passed down through the generations, along with new favorites. Many of the biggest celebrations of Juneteenth are still held in Texas, and Texan foodways and traditions have influenced what have become the iconic Juneteenth foods, as showcased by Chef Adrian Lipscombe’s Texan-tinged menu at the James Beard House. Nicole Taylor unpacks some of the food traditions of Juneteenth for the New York Times. The color red is a symbol of resistance, and red foods have become popular on Juneteenth for symbolic reasons, including red-tinted hot links, red velvet cakes, and red beverages.

Sacramento Juneteenth celebration foods by Lisa Nottingham

Michael Twitty draws linkages between the popularity of red foods for Juneteenth and the foodways of West Africa. Says Twitty, “The practice of eating red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit– may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century.  For both of these cultures the color red is the embodiment of spiritual power and transformation.” Other traditions include tea cakes, a common sight on the Juneteenth table according to Etha Robinson. Ultimately, what is at the Juneteenth table is a reflection of the community cooking it, as highlighted by the four chefs in this Saveur article featuring chefs Carla Hall, Marcus Samuelsson, JJ Johnson, and Jerome Grant.

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