A Golden


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Jan 05, 2024

A Golden

By Nicole A. Taylor All products featured on Bon Appétit are independently

By Nicole A. Taylor

All products featured on Bon Appétit are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

I left Brooklyn for an azalea bush and American persimmon tree-filled corner of northeast Georgia in the summer of 2020, but not before I quickly learned to acclimate to the sense of being isolated and disconnected from friends, not before I understood that this was the new pandemic normal. The only social highlight I vaguely recall from those days was an Instagram Live with multimedia artist and chef Bryant Terry, where, in honor of Juneteenth, I held up a red drink, made of dried hibiscus and mezcal. Looking at each other through our screens, we saluted the ancestors. I remember staring out the window afterwards, looking for what, I’m not sure, a sign, a passerby with a must-have graphic T-shirt, an elder in her Sunday's best, but there was no one, nothing. I turned inward instead and used the relative silence to create Watermelon and Red Birds, the first cookbook dedicated to Juneteenth.

I’ve celebrated this holiday (only recently nationally recognized) for more than a decade—and with the publication of this book, I’m tethered to it in ways I couldn't have imagined. I commit to hosting, even though my work as a food writer and producer is piling up. But this year, maybe more than ever, I’m looking forward to it. Why? Because I’m back in New York, the city that motivates me, and near people I’ve missed. In a time where everyone seems to be comfortable working from home and social commitments are easy to get out of, Juneteenth feels like an opportunity to plan a gathering that has gravitas. Who cancels an opportunity to acknowledge the spirit of the creativity that's come out of Black kitchens for over a century, to raise a glass to the personal triumphs our families have accomplished?

Juneteenth-time is my unofficial start of summer. It is my cue to add all the community festivals on my calendar, to visit Union Square Greenmarket in downtown Manhattan for peak vegetable goodness, and to take long walks in my favorite areas of Bedford-Stuyvesant. From each stop, I gather ideas: a salad of green tomatoes with summer berries, watermelon and cucumber slushies, dried-fruit-topped funnel cakes. I finish putting together the invite list, shop for the flowers and food, put the finishing touches on the playlist.

This year, we will be outside. At the sun's golden hour, the terrace off my living room offers up the best views of the majestic brownstones that comprise Central Brooklyn. The light will bounce off platters of lemon-pepper catfish nuggets. I’ll kick off my modern fish-fry-meets-happy-hour with a declaration to spend more time at home with the ones I love. At the designated time, we’ll say the names of our people who are now red birds; they don't need this painterly light to watch over us.

It's on my bookshelf now but when my friends gather, I will read from my precious copy of a 1950s Ebony magazine, enclosed in plastic, to toast our gathering and affirm leisure has always been a tenant of Black life. In it, a story showcases a rambling Texas ranch estate with a fiberglass Saarinen-shaped dining table and chairs fastened to the swimming pool bottom and a mixed fruit arrangement peaking above the water. It was owned by Dr. Anthony Wayne Beal, who "entertains about twice per week, and throws one big party yearly"—living, thriving, and inspiring. Photo captions read the "House of Purple," "modern kitchen," and "ceramic bowls made by Tony Hill." Dr. Beal is casually posing behind an island lined with copper cake molds. I’ve made it, he seems to be saying, and I’m bringing my friends with me. I understand the power of invisible currency.

My apartment is cozy and stylish but not that opulent (yet). No pool distinguished by modernist furniture or a wall dedicated to collectible kitchenwares. But this spot in Bed Stuy is ours—mine, my husband, and my son's. Come Juneteenth, it will be full of that energy of abundance that propels me to move forward with the power of generations of Black Americans who have hosted and celebrated despite all inequalities. And I will open it up to my friends, pushing through that isolation that's just under the surface by connecting with community.

On June 19, 1865, the day enslaved Texans found out they were liberated, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, people danced, ate, and smiled. I imagine a day both solemn and joyous. Today, just as over a century and a half ago, women meet at Houston's Third Ward Emancipation Park to embrace daughters and sons, aunts and uncles, cousins both by blood and proclamation.

I want that feeling of reconnecting: no more friends that flake because a conference call ran overtime, or they’d rather scroll through Instagram then get up and out. We are free because we acknowledge the sacrifices and make room for the future. The catfish is fragrant, the solemn music is now rachet, the smoking is billowing, and the red drink is abundant. There are new friends and old. Everyone has their hands in the air.