Today people around the country (and the world) will celebrate Juneteenth, which is a celebration of the end of slavery…an emancipation day of sorts. I may even fry some chicken or bake a cake, or something, or maybe I will just have a glass of wine.
Here in the United States we do not have an official Emancipation Day holiday, so Juneteenth is it. Sadly, not so many people know about it. There are official Emancipation Day holidays throughout the Caribbean in particular and in a scant few Latin American nations, but here nothing national, nothing official. Not too many people know that either. We really should celebrate emancipation, as a way to show reverence and respect. Why? Well, because slave labor built this country funding industry in the North and fueling agriculture (and filling pockets) in the South ( and the North too). People generally don’t know much about all of this either, but perhaps this is by choice.
So, yes. June 18, 1865. General in the Union Army, Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with Union troops to gain control and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation issued two years earlier at the end of the Civil War. June 19th or Juneteenth he stood before the town, the [formerly] enslaved, [former] slave owners, and anyone else who happened to be around and informed them all that it was a wrap. Everyone was free…in theory. In the 146 years since, we know that much has changed and just as much has not. But that announcement, along with Lincoln’s proclamation of Emancipation (& the 13th Amendment), opened the door to a long journey for black people that has included spectacular successes and great failures, periods of bliss and heartbreak, all punctuated by an awe inspiring beauty and creative spirit that has influenced culture and history around the world and often makes me say out loud: “Black people are awesome.”
And so the celebrations commemorating emancipation and the interminable spirit of black people…our struggles,culture, heritage, and history began… Honoring the ancestors were no doubt as much a part of those early celebrations as much as feting freedom. Food was, of course, a central focus and I imagine tables and plates piled high with barbecue (of course) fried chicken; crowder peas and ham hocks; okra, corn, and tomatoes; fruits; cakes; pies made with anything grown, caught, harvested, or preserved on the land to which the people had been forcibly tied for at least centuries prior.
This year I am reflecting on so many things–the food, of course, but also the legacy, history, strength, and damn, the sheer élan and dynamism of black folks.I guess I should be writing a post about a menu, maybe the top five dishes to serve at a Juneteenth picnic or some such. There are plenty of others to do that, though. Heck, I even know a few of them who will and that’s not a bad thing,because they will probably make a little cash in the process. But, what I’m thinking right now as I sit writing this staring out a window with a view of Puget Sound before me, is that I will reflect. I am inspired everyday by the idea that I am able to honor my ancestors, my culture, my history, my family everyday with Roots Cuisine. I am humbled as I learn more about the food of people of afrodescendents all over the world and grateful, so grateful that I have this opportunity, that I carved this opportunity out for myself. It ain’t easy but it is my way of honoring and commemorating the struggle, the people, the legacy.
Happy Juneteenth, everyone.
Fry some chicken.
2 cups all-purpose flour
Salt & pepper
3-4 pound chicken
Peanut oil, coconut oil, or (*gulp*) lard for frying
Cut up chicken into nine pieces. I also like to cut breasts and thighs in half. Clean excess fat, blood or other visible and excessive gunk from each piece. I advise against removing the skin, but you may, things will still work out in the end. Fill a bowl with cold water and add a bit of vinegar, maybe a tablespoon to it. Place chicken pieces in water and leave them to sit between 10-20 minutes.
While the chicken soaks measure out flour and put into a paper bag. Add salt and pepper to the flour, enough to season your chicken. This mixture will be the crust on your chicken when fried, so make sure you add enough so that things are not bland, I would say maybe 3-4 teaspoons of salt and a few healthy grinds or shakes of black pepper. Once this is done, set bag aside. Wash the chicken pieces by swishing them in the water, rinse with fresh, cold water. Pat chicken pieces dry and sprinkle them with salt and pepper on both sides. Set pieces aside for at least 10 minutes to absorb the seasoning.
After 10 minutes place the chicken in the bag of seasoned flour and shake vigorously. Remove each piece to a plate or platter shaking of excess flour as you go. Allow chicken pieces to sit 10 or so minutes to give the flour mixture time to adhere to the chicken.
To fry the chicken, add oil half way up the sides of a heavy-bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) if pan frying or to cover if deep frying. This will vary with the size of your pan, use your best judgement and add more oil if necessary. Heat the oil or lard (or shortening if you choose, Crisco makes great chicken, but I don’t like to use it) until you see ripples on the surface of the oil. Add your chicken cooking over a medium-high flame. Allow the chicken to cook 8-10 minutes per side undisturbed to develop a deep, golden crust. DO NOT TOUCH. Keep an eye on things, of course, and if it’s burning turn the chicken, remove it, of lower the flame, whichever seems applicable to the situation. 8-10 minutes is a good measure of time. You want a golden brown color and chicken that is tender and still yields a bit to pressure, not to dark. Unlike berries or men, darker is not better here, your chicken will be dry and hard. Color is really your best indicator. As for undercooking, a golden color is best. Further, if you try to turn the chicken pieces and they stick to the bottom of the pan, leave them alone, they are not done. If you still find them to be undercooked once you remove them, place them in the oven at a low temperature (250 degrees) for 10-15 minutes.
Once cooked evenly on both sides, transfer chicken pieces to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.
Herbal medicine stall in Coronation Market -- Kingston, Jamaica