Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, made a federal holiday in 2021.
From its Galveston, Texas, origin in 1865, the observance of June 19 as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, pic- nics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue. For a long time, relatives told young ones that the red symbolized the blood of the millions of enslaved people who had suffered and died. But the red foods and drinks may have had a longer history that began on the continent these people were taken from, reports Atlas Obscura.
Moreover, red foods and drinks were a major way of commemorating that legacy of enslavement and the holiday. But “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,” from present-day Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, writes culinary historian and food writer Michael Twitty in his blog Afroculinaria.
Twitty goes on to write, “enslavement narratives from Texas recall an African ancestor being lured using red flannel cloth, and many of the charms and power objects used to manipulate invisible forces required a red handkerchief.”
Professor of history and foodways at Babson College Fred Opie writes that some historians believe the red color could be connected to “the Asante and Yoruba’s special occasions which included offering up the blood of animals (especially the red blood of white birds and white goats) to their ancestors and gods.”
Red, in many West African cultures, is a symbol of strength, spirituality, and life and death. It’s possible this cultural legacy along with these groups’ distinct food knowledge of okra, beans, melons, and many other food groupings—some red, some not—was brought across the Atlantic.
This Juneteenth, try this delicious Strawberry Soda recipe as you toast the ancestors for their strength and tenacity.
Strawberry Soda Ingredients
- 1 lb. strawberries rinsed, hulled, and diced
- 1½ cups granulated sugar (can use less if desired)
- 1½ cups water
- 2-3 teaspoon lemon juice
- Club Soda, chilled
- Place the strawberries, water, and sugar in a large saucepan. Stir.
- Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- When strawberries are soft, mash them with a potato masher.
- Let strawberries continue to simmer gently until the juices begin to reduce, thicken and become syrupy. (reduce heat if needed)
- Strain mixture through a mesh strainer, using a rubber spatula to press out the excess syrup. Discard the pulp. (You should have about 1 ¼ cups of syrup.)
- Let syrup mixture cool and then place in the refrigerator until chilled.
- To make a glass of soda, pour 8 oz of cold club soda into a cup. Stir in the chilled strawberry syrup by the tablespoon, tasting until you’ve reached your desired sweetness.
Place leftover syrup in a jar and store it in the fridge.
This recipe makes about 1 1/4 cups of strawberry soda. Serving size depends on how many tablespoons of syrup you use per cup. (I usually like about 4-5
tablespoons per 8 oz club soda)