Claiming Joy: The Juneteenth Menu of My Momma’s Memories
On June 19, 2014 my Momma Frances and I were at the Greenwood, Mississippi library, looking through massive genealogy books and spinning through rolls of microfiche. We were celebrating Juneteenth that year by searching for connections to our family: a family that fled the unrelenting violence of Mississippi by train when my Momma’s Momma, Aquilla, was only three years old. We were hoping we’d find something we could share at our family reunion a few days later. But with the exception of photographs of the river where my Momma’s Granddaddy used to go fishing with the kids, we left empty handed.
Juneteenth has always been a complicated holiday to celebrate. It is simultaneously a day of liberation and a day of mourning. It marks the moment in 1865 when the news of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation finally made its way to the last outpost of enslaved Africans located in Texas. And it is also an annual reminder that even though enslavement ended in its original form, our community is still experiencing ongoing lynchings, inequality, and desperation as a result of the racism that enslavement wove throughout our entire society.
With all of this on our hearts, my Momma and I recently talked about our plans for honoring Juneteenth this year. She’s in Kansas and I’m in Nevada. Over video chat we saw each other’s foreheads crinkle as we thought about claiming joy during a pandemic and expressing solidarity with protesters. How do we create a sense of gathering together as a family in the midst of sheltering in place? How can we support the activists that continue to fight for the dismantling of systemic racism? What do we need in order to feel our freedom?
Frances was the first born child of the woman who, as a child, boarded that train out of the Delta. My Momma witnessed every expression of systemic racism since the Great Depression. She remembers hearing that her uncles were going off to World War II, and learning about the first sit-ins in the country taking place at a Woolworth’s five and dime in KS. She named her first son after Medgar Evers and taught in schools where education was separate and/or integrated but never equal. Today she is looking at the young ones standing up for their rights, rights we shoulda had since before 1865, and she says she’s afraid for them and she’s so proud of them too.
Through all of these experiences, my Momma and her family claimed their joy in song, in soul food, and in civic engagement. My Grandma’s commitment to feed the children in the community influenced my Momma’s choice to be of service through teaching, running for public office and at 80 years old, serving on Democratic leadership committees. And then I came along and found my path as an attorney turned cooking community organizer: each of us singing blessings before serving food to support the self determination of our community.
During our call Momma and I started writing out what we’d want on our Juneteenth menu. For special family meals like this, she loves to print a menu to commemorate the occasion. On this holiday, we want to serve the foods and memories that would give joy to our family. In our household, like many others, each person in the family is known for a specific dish. Our ancestors, like Grandma, passed down different recipes and food traditions and we added some along the way.
As we spoke, the flavors began to sing out a chorus of possibilities. We had to have Grandma’s collard greens that would be topped with okra from the garden. The paper bag fried chicken and famous potato salad made with homemade mayonnaise also made the list. As did the cast iron cornbread, real pound cake, and Kool Aid mixed with lemonade. But as we looked at the list it felt like something was missing. Never could we forget, the fresh summertime peach cobbler that Grandma used to make. Yes, that definitely tastes like freedom.
Grandma’s cobblers were the definition of love. Each time I saw one I got all the anticipation of sweet and tart and flaky and delicious. It’s the kind of dessert that gets your mouth to make sounds as you eye your second helping. Fresh peach cobbler has to be on this menu because it expressed so much of Grandma’s heart. It provides a beautiful memory to celebrate our joy on Juneteenth.
Get the recipe: Double Crust Peach Cobbler
In so many ways a menu is like a prayer. It says so much about our values, our dreams and our intentions. In order to make that blessing even more explicit, we added a specific quality to each dish. As we eat that specific food, we ask that it manifest that quality in ourselves and in the world.
Now we’ll send this menu to our family around the country and the world and ask them to cook the dishes they miss and add others that they love. We’ll send the recipe for the double crust peach cobbler that honors our matriarch as well as the new iteration, peach cobbler cookies. Since delivering whole cobblers could get complicated, we’ll ask everyone to bake a batch of the cobbler cookies, wrap them individually, place them in a basket and responsibly deliver them to the organizers and activists in their community who are fighting for our collective liberation both in the face of COVID-19 and systemic racism. Tell the recipients the story of our Grandma and her courageous persistence. Share your memory of the last time you remember her cooking peach cobbler for a family gathering. Do this so that they know the love of our whole family is with them as they seek justice, healing, and equality.
Get the recipe: Peach Cobbler Cookies
We look forward to each of you reading this story and developing your own Juneteenth menu. Think about your family traditions of not only food but social justice and survival. Write down what you would like to serve this year — both to eat and to feel. Remembering our family recipes is a form of protest and promise to future generations. Remembering our traditions of resistance, solidarity, and civic engagement is our commitment to never take the sacrifices of our ancestors for granted. Together, let’s claim our joy and our freedom.
Juneteenth Menu 2020
Paper Bag Fried Chicken – JUSTICE
Collard Greens Topped with Backyard Okra – PEACE
Potato Salad with Homemade Mayonnaise – JOY
Corn on the Cob – PERSISTENCE
Cast Iron Cornbread – FREEDOM
Condiment Plate with Green Onions (served in a glass of water), Fresh Sliced Beefsteak Tomatoes, Raw Slices of Sweet Vidalia Onion, Cucumbers, Chow Chow, and Hot Sauce – LEGACY
Double Crust Peach Cobbler and Peach Cobbler Cookies – LOVE
Hand Churned Ice Cream – GRATITUDE
Real Pound Cake – DETERMINATION
Kool Aid over Lemonade – LIBERATION
Jocelyn Jackson’s passion for culturally significant food, social justice, creativity, and community is rooted in a childhood spent on the Kansas plains. Her family would always sing a song before sharing a soulful meal. Jocelyn founded JUSTUS Kitchen to continue to create healing food experiences that inspire people to reconnect with themselves, the earth, and one another, with the goal of collective liberation. And she still begins every meal with a song. Trained as an attorney and environmental educator, she enjoys using her role as a cook activist to build beloved community.
Jocelyn is also a co-founder of the People’s Kitchen Collective (PKC) based in Oakland. It is a large-scale community dining project that uses food and art to address the critical issues of our time while centering the lived experiences of Black and brown folks.
PKC was named “Rising Star Chef” by the San Francisco Chronicle, honored on the YBCA 100 list, and was presented with the advocate award at CAAMFeast.