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Watermelon and Red Birds
A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations
Table of Contents
About The Book
The very first cookbook to celebrate Juneteenth, from food writer and cookbook author Nicole A. Taylor—who draws on her decade of experiences observing the holiday.
On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued General Order Number 3, informing the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free. A year later, in 1866, Black Texans congregated with music, dance, and BBQs—Juneteenth celebrations.
All-day cook-outs with artful salads, bounteous dessert spreads, and raised glasses of “red drink” are essential to Juneteenth gatherings. In Watermelon and Red Birds, Nicole puts jubilation on the main stage. As a master storyteller and cook, she bridges the traditional African-American table and 21st-century flavors in stories and recipes. Nicole synthesizes all the places we’ve been, all the people we have come from, all the people we have become, and all the culinary ideas we have embraced.
Watermelon and Red Birds contains over 75 recipes, including drinks like Afro Egg Cream and Marigold Gin Sour, dishes like Beef Ribs with Fermented Harissa Sauce, Peach Jam and Molasses Glazed Chicken Thighs, Southern-ish Potato Salad and Cantaloupe and Feta Salad, and desserts like Roasted Nectarine Sundae, and Radish and Ginger Pound Cake. Taylor also provides a resource to guide readers to BIPOC-owned hot sauces, jams, spice, and waffle mixes companies and lists fun gadgets to make your Juneteenth special. These recipes and essays will inspire parties to salute one of the most important American holidays, and moments to savor joy all year round.
Some of the most common questions I receive from novice and experienced cooks alike are about adding flavor with seasoning blends, dashes of sauces, and spoonfuls of vinegary vegetables. I answer the spice-and-sauce question in two parts: I make my own blends, but my cabinets and counter are filled with small-batch specialty products like single-origin nutmeg from Diaspora Co., mambo sauce from Capital City, and smoked yellow peach jam from Trade Street Jam Co.
Of course, in families that are the most serious about their culinary traditions, spice blends and hot sauce recipes often get passed down. I wasn’t fortunate enough to inherit such wealth. But I do love the idea that in addition to these premade options, I can create my own seasonings to help give my food a uniquely consistent flavor. These recipes might well be the most valuable things my young son will inherit from me.
I use a spice grinder to make my peppercorn rub. Before I grind or smash seeds, nuts, or whole spices for blends, I toast them. In a small skillet, I heat ingredients like whole fennel seeds over medium-low heat for 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Be sure not to burn the spices, and let them cool down before grinding and mixing with other ground spices. For the other salts and rubs and the fry mix, combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl with a small wooden spoon; mix well until everything is evenly distributed. Be sure to label your mixes with the date you made them, because while they won’t spoil, they will lose their potency over time.
The sauces require a heavy saucepan with a lid. Once made, they can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge; I’ve noted the shelf life in each recipe. I’ve paired sauces like the rhubarb BBQ sauce with meatless baked beans, but they also work well with pork ribs, and the green garlic chimichurri is perfect for more than lamb chops—try it with rib eye, too. I encourage mixing and matching sauces for your celebration dishes and everyday meals.
Throughout the cookbook, I’ll direct you to use these staples. Buy store-bought mixes, spice blends, or hot sauces if you’re in a crunch. But you should try to make your own, complete with your personal variations, too. Let the circle be unbroken for the next generation.
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 31, 2022)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982176211
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Raves and Reviews
"Watermelon and Red Birds is a call for us all to celebrate Black joy and freedom in its many facets. Nicole Taylor has gifted the world with a breathtaking cookbook that is grounded in history and tradition while keeping one eye on the ever-evolving nature of culture, customs, and foodways. This book reminds us that Black folks should own and drive the way we celebrate our historical milestones, and what better way to do so than over a full plate with family and friends." —Bryant Terry, James Beard award-winning author of Black Food and Editor-in-Chief of 4 Color Books
"Juneteenth is not just about a moment; it's about a celebration of freedom--to choose, to experiment and to enjoy. Nicole Taylor exemplifies soul food as construct rather than canon--a place where dynamic ideas about food keep us grounded in the tradition while unfettering us from the expected and overplayed. The dance she takes us on in our kitchens is a thrill. Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations is revolutionary. "—Michael W. Twitty, James Beard Award-winning author of The Cooking Gene, Rice, and Koshersoul
"My friend Nicole Taylor has a curiosity that is infectious and tenacious, and matched only by her love for her people. For Us. This particular combination has been to the great benefit of the U.S. food writing canon, to the professional food writing community, and to YOU….These recipes are illustrative of her gifts, moving us seamlessly from the historic to the contemporary, with ingredients and rhetoric together reinforcing a clear thesis – 'I put on for my people.’" —Stephen Satterfield, founder of Whetstone Media, host of High on the Hog
"With Watermelon and Red Birds, Nicole Taylor liberates us from the limitations and labels that have narrowly defined African American cooks and their cooking for generations. Her recipes and stories encourage us to celebrate freedom on our own terms, with eyes fixed on the future and cooking with joy." —Toni Tipton-Martin, Editor in Chief, Cook’s Country, magazine and PBS television show, and award-winning author of Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking, and The Jemima Code Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks
"Nicole Taylor chronicles Black foodways with expertise and warmth, crafting recipes you'll find yourself immediately adding to your weekly repertoire. Watermelon and Red Birds is an astounding text, both definitive and generous, abundant and joyful." —Bryan Washington, author of Lot and Memorial
“The prolific Nicole Taylor has taken us on a brilliant exploration of African American culture in Delicious Bites. It’s full of amazing stories but most of all it stays true to the culture. This is a must-read for all.” —JJ Johnson, chef and founder of FIELDRTIP
"As with every Nicole Taylor gathering I’ve attended, Watermelon and Red Birds is vivid with joy and aliveness. The story of Juneteenth that grounds this festive recipe collection celebrates the places we’ve been and the people we’ve become. This cookbook, rich with poignant history, refreshing anecdotes, and Taylor’s singular ability to convey the global reach of Southern-inspired cuisine, is the spirited guide many of us have been craving. Consider this timely treasure a labor of love for Black American food culture, and an invitation to embrace its evolving ingenuity and creativity all year long."—Osayi Endolyn, James Beard-Award winning food and culture writer
"Juneteenth is a newly minted holiday but an old celebration. In Watermelon and Red Birds, Nicole Taylor provides an impressive array of new recipes for a new generation to tip a glass of red drink and savor the flavors of this new jubilee. Along each step of the way, she reminds us of the history and evolution of this most delectable and needful American holiday." —Lolis Eric Elie, co-author Rodney Scott's World of Barbecue
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- Book Cover Image (jpg): Watermelon and Red Birds Paper Over Board 9781982176211
- Author Photo (jpg): Nicole A. Taylor Photograph by Adrian Franks(0.1 MB)
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