TOP STORIES Chef Nicole A. Taylor talks about red birds, red...

Chef Nicole A. Taylor talks about red birds, red drink and the June holiday.

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Chef Nicole A. Taylor next to her new cookbook. Watermelon and red birds.

Caylin James


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Caylin James

Chef Nicole A. Taylor next to her new cookbook. Watermelon and red birds.

Caylin James

2022 is the second year that June 10 is celebrated as a federal holiday, so it’s ripe to be another part of the American summer calendar like Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day. Translation? A day of sale on mattresses, limited editions, heavy booze, and, if you’re lucky, a real day off.

But here at Code Switch we’re big fans of recognition valid story. Therefore, we could not pass by this event without being reminded of what June is and the traditions that were passed down from generation to generation long before most of the country ever recognized this day.

So I spoke to Nicole A. Taylor. She calls herself a “master home cook” and is the author of Watermelon and red birds – one of the few June 10th episodes that doesn’t give me goosebumps. It’s actually a very beautiful, very meaningful book that uses food as a lens to tell the history of June 10th and other black holidays.

Taylor has been writing about and preparing food for decades. A proud native of Athens, Georgia, she captured national attention in 2015 when she posted Cookbook Up Southis a collection of recipes and memories for people who wanted a taste of the south, wherever they lived.

In 2017 Taylor published The newspaper “New York Times article about June products. Shortly thereafter, her agent told her that she needed to think about a recipe book on June 10, an offer that Taylor initially turned down. “I didn’t feel like the right person to write this cookbook because I wasn’t born and raised in Texas,” she explained. “I’m Southern, but not Texan.”

But she is collector and disseminator of culinary knowledge and ways of eating in the black community. And, as she points out, blacks across the South have long, interconnected traditions of celebrating emancipation. So she decided to run away with him. “Black Americans – in fact, all Americans – needed a cookbook centered on black joy, which was based on June 19, 1865, and which was a guide to gathering family and friends around the table.” So that, Watermelon and red birds became a reality.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. To learn more about Nicole A. Taylor, watch the Sunday edition of the Code Switch podcast.


Tell me about the title: What to do Watermelon and red birds mean?

Watermelon comes from the African continent. For all Americans, this is the fruit that cools you down during the hot summer months – it’s juicy, juicy, and highly recognizable. So I wanted to make sure it became part of the book. What about red birds? Just thinking about why I added “Red Birds” to the name makes me smile. This is because when I was growing up, my mother told me this story: every time you see a red bird approaching you, she said that it means that someone from the family who passed away is returning to say hello. She said it was good luck and I should blow them a kiss. And so I knew that Watermelon and red birds was the perfect title to honor the past, present and future.

In a way, over the past couple of years, we’ve been “built the June way” to death, sometimes in completely inappropriate ways. So I’m wondering what do you think makes the recipe you’d like to serve for June?

Very good question! I’m going to justify my answer by simply reminding everyone that June 19, 1865, is the day over 250,000 black Texans knew they were free. It is more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. So when I think about it, I think and explore: what did black people eat in 1866? What was the traditional black or African American table like? How did it look?

There are recipes based on African American culinary traditions. Can they be classics? Of course they can be classics. It can be things like barbeque, which we know is traditional June food – juicy juicy ribs, brisket, even burgers can be traditional June food. And a red drink.

But in this cookbook, I have over 75 recipes, and not all of them are traditional. These are recipes that have their roots in the African American table, but they also have my own interpretation, which shows how I celebrated June. That’s not to say I don’t have classics on the table, but I just wanted to focus and give people permission to chart their own course, create their own course. own traditions.

As you just said, “Juneteenth” started out as something famous in a certain community. In recent years, even before it became a federal holiday, June 19 is ubiquitous. I’m wondering what you think of this national interest June 19? I know there is a school of thought that says, “This is not yours, this is ours. It started here, we made it, and everything you do is a pale imitation of what we actually created.” Other people feel like this must be a national holiday – and we should rejoice in it. What do you think?

June has always been in all the United States of America. We know that during the Great Migration, many blacks left Texas for other cities. We know that people across the American South have left their cities and towns, taking their traditions with them. And so the Texans took their traditions with them. They traveled to places like Los Angeles. They traveled to places like Auckland, which hosts one of the largest and longest June community festivals in the country. Milwaukee is another place that has hosted a public June festival since 1971. You’ll find June celebrations that go on for decades in Harlem and Brooklyn. Texans live all over the United States, and if they can’t get back to Galveston, Houston, or Dallas, they’re going to celebrate June wherever they are.

And throughout the American South, blacks celebrated when they learned of freedom. This is what binds us. So I disprove it 100% that other blacks shouldn’t be celebrating June. I think what’s most important is that we’re grounding and constantly telling the origin story of Juneteenth, a holiday that was born in Texas. And show respect to Galveston and the people of Texas by telling the full origin story every time we talk about this new, nationally recognized holiday.

What other black holidays do you celebrate in this book?

I celebrate Kwanzaa. Another one would be a block party – I lived in Brooklyn for a long time and I love a block party! You tend to find parties in black and brown neighborhoods, so this is another black party that’s out there. And, as a proud HBCU graduate, college graduation is the perfect time to bring in all the products you see in June. So this is another holiday to which I take my hat off. Watermelon and red birds.

Let’s go back to Red Drink for a moment, because for many people it is the epitome of June. What should we remember about these drinks?

I want people to understand that there is a connection with black people all over the world, especially when you look at Red Drink. I was in my thirties—that was 20+ years ago—when I realized that the red drinks I saw in the punch bowls had to do with West Africa. In Senegal, the national drink is bisap, hibiscus soaked in water with spices and sugar. You will find a similar drink with a different name in northern Egypt. You will find the same drink in the Caribbean, where it is called sorrel.

Nicole A. Taylor performing “Sweet Potato Spritz”

Beatriz da Costa


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Beatriz da Costa

We are connected globally. And that’s what I want people to keep in mind as they look through this book: Yes, I’m focusing Black American culture, food traditions, and traditions on June 10th. But globally we are connected.

Are we connected by diaspora yummy?

One hundred percent!

With that in mind, do you have a favorite recipe, a June holiday recipe, that you’d like to share with us?

One of my favorites is without a doubt in the red drink chapter. It’s a Sweet Potato Spritz. It is reddish in color, but Cappelletti, which is an aperitif, is red. It has sweet potato syrup that has the whole essence of sweet potato pie. So, it’s me again, bringing in black American food, adding my own flavor to it. I take roasted or boiled sweet potatoes and add warming spices—much the same spices that I or someone else puts in sweet potato pie. This syrup with cappelletti, vodka and sparkling white wine makes for a wonderful, vibrant summer drink that you can serve on the table on June 19th. In fact, you can serve it any day you want to experience joy – you want to feel jubilant. But this is definitely one of my favorite recipes in the book. I will definitely have it June 16th! (Recipe below.)

Nicole A. Taylor’s recipe for Sweet Potato Spritz.

Contributed By Simon & Schuster


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Contributed By Simon & Schuster

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