Celebrating Juneteenth

The picture above shows my Juneteenth present for my tea-loving son: a blend called Alhambra 1400, one of the Time Travel series of teas created by the Raleigh Tea Company, available every week at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market. I chose that for two reasons (besides the fact he loves exotic teas and pretty much all of the products of this wonderful local business).

  1. The color red is associated with Juneteenth food and drink, and this blend contains red rooibos, which is a tea grown in South Africa, and red rose petals.
  2. The Alhambra was the palace of Spanish Moors, so we don’t usually associate that with American slavery. But last year I attended a great teacher training workshop offered by Carolina K-12, the NC Museum of History, and UNC’s Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies called “Challenging Misconceptions of Slavery: The Life of Omar ibn Said.” Said was a well-educated Muslim scholar who was kidnapped and brought to the US to be sold into slavery. He spent decades as a slave in North Carolina, but kept reading and writing and actually wrote the only known slave autobiography written in Arabic. The point is that there were a number of Muslim slaves in the US, simply illustrating that the people held in captivity ran the gamut of countries, cultures, and religions.

As stated in a blog post years ago, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth before this year. However, it has a special significance this year since it was just made an official federal holiday. So in addition to reading a number of articles about both the history of Juneteenth and African American perspectives of its significance today, I went to the kitchen to make a special Juneteenth meal.

There was a blog hop among Black cooking bloggers devoted to Juneteenth recipes that I perused with much interest. One that really caught my eye was a recipe for strawberry barbecue baby back ribs. However, we had tickets to go hear the NC Symphony at Summerfest that night, so I had to prepare a picnic dinner. Baby back ribs seemed a little messy for eating at an outdoor concert, so I used her recipe as inspiration for my own invention of a Juneteenth Raspberry Pulled Chicken Barbecue sandwich.

I started with a combination of regular tomatoes and cherry tomatoes that I had bought that morning from Parker Farms at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market.

I ended up using about two pounds of regular tomatoes (more than shown above) and a pint of the cherry tomatoes. The recipe I was working off of used tomato paste. When I looked up how to make tomato paste, it was, like, a five hour process using both burner and oven and requiring a food mill. Since I’m from the “let’s get real” school of cooking, I just chopped up the tomatoes (although I squeezed out much of the liquid and seeds beforehand) and let them cook down in my ceramic no-stick saucepan. I wanted some heat, and I wanted it to come from a regional hot pepper called the Carolina Reaper, which is supposed to be one of the hottest peppers in the world. I couldn’t find any of the pepper itself, so I put in a couple of tablespoons of this salsa based on that pepper.

I had to keep an eye on it and stir frequently, but in maybe 40 or so minutes? it had cooked down to this:

I ground it up with our immersion blended and it ended up being about 3/4 cups, which is equal to a six ounce can of tomato paste that the recipe called for.

My husband has diabetes so we try to avoid too much added sugar in things (although cooking down the tomatoes intensified their natural sweetness. So instead of brown sugar or molasses or honey or such, the only additional sugar I added was from balsamic vinegar. I had a bottle of raspberry balsamic vinegar from a local shop next to the Farmers Market, Peak Oil, so we ended up with Raspberry BBQ instead of Strawberry.

I mixed in 1/3 cup of that with 1/2 cup water to make it into a more sauce-like consistency. But that was it! No other spices or onions or anything, since that was pretty much covered by the Carolina Reaper salsa.

I put it in a jar and cooked some chicken thighs in the Instant Pot, which I then shredded.

For drinks, I had red strawberry kombucha…

and some sparkling rose from our local wine store (also right next to the Farmers Market), Chatham Street Wine, which features interesting but reasonably-priced wines from small vineyards around the world.

Then I mixed the barbecue sauce with the chicken and layered it onto a multigrain bun:

It was quite unique. It was quite, but not too much for us (who like hot), spicy but also very fruity. I think next time I would reduce the raspberry vinegar and replace some of it with maybe red wine vinegar because the fruit was a little intense and it lacked an acid bite that I like in my barbecue. But for something that I just made up, inspired by African American cooking and trying to use local ingredients and resources, I thought it was very successful! My son gave it a two thumbs up, and he usually doesn’t like barbecue, so that’s saying something.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the tea, here is how it looks brewed in a glass tea pot:

Obviously, the significance of Juneteenth is bigger than barbecue and red tea. I did read a lot of commentary and resources about the event from African American sources, and do continue to support the equality of all in our country. But I also enjoyed trying to create something from a minimum of local sources, as I know our enslaved people had to do with much less access to things than I have. Perhaps this will be my new tradition so I can spend less time figuring out the menu and more time looking into the history.


4 thoughts on “Celebrating Juneteenth

    1. Thanks so much! I hope we’re on the way to a better understanding of our complicated history, even the parts that are uncomfortable to look at and deal with. Schools are certainly teaching a more honest version of the past than what I was taught as a child.

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