This year, Juneteenth, June 19, is more than a day to commemorate when enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas, got word they were free. It's a statement that black Americans continue to rise, even when promises are unfulfilled. Music, dance and food, like summer fruit, layer cakes, baked beans, fish and barbecue, are central to the holiday. So have that backyard picnic. Take the time to bake a cake, or ask your grandfather if he has photos to share. Buy hot sauce to support a young entrepreneur, or visit a black farmer. Celebrate all that is good, for one moment.
Strawberry Slab Pie
Every legit celebration needs at least one dessert — hello, slab pie. The strawberries here nod to the red-food traditions of Juneteenth. This pie balances savory and sweet, with hints of black pepper in the crust, and just enough sugar. Small berries produce the best dessert.
Time: 4 hours, plus 2 hours cooling
Yield: 12 to 16 servings
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for buttering the pan
3/4 cup ice water
2 tablespoons buttermilk
For the filling:
3 pounds fresh strawberries, small berries cut in half and larger berries cut in quarters (see note)
3 to 4 tablespoons loosely packed dark brown sugar, depending on how sweet your berries are
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon grapefruit zest
1 1/2 teaspoons grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Make the crust: In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, the salt and the pepper. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of lentils.
Sprinkle ice water over dough a tablespoon at a time, stirring and scooping the dough with your hands as you go to incorporate the water, until the dough just begins to adhere and you can gather it into an imperfect ball. (You may not need all the water.) Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap, and press into a disk. Wrap tightly, and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Lightly butter a quarter sheet pan with a 1-inch rim, including the top edge of the rim, and set aside. (Quarter sheet pans are usually 8 by 11 inches or 9 by 12 inches, depending on the manufacturer.)
Lightly flour a large work surface, a rolling pin and the dough. Roll the chilled dough into an 1/8-inch-thick rectangle. From that, cut a rectangle 3 inches bigger than the dimensions of your pan on each side (i.e., an 11- by 14-inch rectangle for an 8- by 11-inch pan, or a 12- by 15-inch rectangle for a 9- by 12-inch pan). Reserve the extra dough.
Gently press the dough rectangle into the quarter sheet pan, trimming excess dough at the edges. The dough should go all the way up and over the top edge of the pan, if possible. Transfer pan to refrigerator, and chill for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out reserved dough to 1/4- to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 1- and 2-inch biscuit cutters, cut out about 30 circles of different sizes (or use all one size if you prefer), rerolling dough as necessary. Transfer circles to parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate.
Make the filling: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and stir well. Set aside for about an hour, while crust chills.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. When oven is hot, paint some of the buttermilk on the edges of the pie crust. Transfer berry mixture to crust, patting the berries down into a roughly even layer. Place pan on a larger baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake for 30 minutes.
Paint buttermilk over reserved pastry circles, and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon granulated sugar. Place circles all over the bubbling berries. Continue baking pie until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, an additional 50 to 60 minutes.
Run a small knife around the edge of the pie while it's warm. Transfer the pie in its quarter sheet pan to a wire rack. Let cool for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving from the pan.
* Use smaller, fresh farm strawberries rather than conventional supermarket berries, if possible. The farm berries release less juice, which makes for a less runny filling.
* This isn't an especially sugary dessert, so if you want something sweeter, top it with vanilla ice cream.
Dolester Miles' Coconut Pecan Cake
After 30-plus years as the pastry chef for chef Frank Stitt III's cluster of Alabama restaurants, Miles won a James Beard award for outstanding pastry. This cake, her masterpiece, is what every celebration needs, a dessert worthy of your full attention. Every layer is a conversation, and each bite is joy.
Time: about 1 1/2 hours, plus chilling
Yield: 12 to 14 servings
For the cake:
1 cup firmly packed sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened, plus more for the pans
1/4 cup cream of coconut
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
For the filling and simple syrup:
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cream of coconut
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup granulated sugar
For the icing:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper, then dust with flour, tapping out excess.
Finely grind the coconut in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl. Add pecans to the food processor, along with 2 tablespoons sugar, and finely grind them.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in coconut and pecans.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, cream of coconut and the remaining sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as necessary, then beat in coconut extract.
Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the coconut milk, starting and ending with flour mixture. Divide batter between the pans, and smooth the top of each with a spatula. Bake until cakes are golden and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake, invert onto rack and remove the parchment. Let cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Place egg yolks in a small heatproof bowl, and set aside. In a saucepan, combine condensed milk, butter and cream of coconut and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until hot, about 4 minutes. Whisk 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Transfer egg mixture to the saucepan of milk, and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until mixture has the consistency of pudding, about 4 minutes. Do not let the custard get too thick. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in the shredded coconut. Let cool completely.
Make the simple syrup: In a saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
Assemble the layer cake in a pan: Cut each cake in half horizontally. Place one layer in the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan, moisten the top with 2 to 3 tablespoons simple syrup, and spread 1/2 cup of the coconut filling in a thin, even layer with an offset spatula. Repeat to make 2 more layers of cake and filling, then place the last layer on top. Refrigerate cake for about 1 hour. To unmold, run a spatula around the edges, invert a cake plate over the top, and flip the cake over onto the plate. When the cake is inverted and unmolded, the edges have an even, professional appearance.
Make the icing: Whip the cream with the powered sugar and coconut extract until stiff peaks form. Spread on the top and sides of the cake, and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Mashama Bailey's Pecan Pesto
Chef Mashama Bailey runs and co-owns The Grey and The Grey Market in Savannah, Georgia. And you can watch her story on "The Chef's Table," on Netflix, as a nightcap to your Juneteenth festivities. Make two batches of the pesto, one for the freezer and one for lathering on toast. Use whatever basil you can find. Bailey's cooking is about bending the rules.
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 cup
1 small clove garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
1 cup fresh opal basil leaves (or substitute more basil)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
Put garlic in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to break it up into smaller pieces.
Add basil and pecans to the processor. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil, and purée until mixture is mostly smooth.
Transfer pesto to a bowl, and stir in grated cheese. Season to taste with salt.
BJ Dennis' Limpin' Susan
Dennis, a chef, is the unofficial ambassador of Gullah Geechee cuisine, which maintains links to West Africa. The specialness of this dish is its crispy texture. Done right, you taste every piece of fragrant rice.
Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
1/4 cup cooking oil (coconut oil works well, but any neutral oil will do), plus more if needed
2 cups sliced fresh okra (1/2 pound), about 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 to 3 fresh hot peppers, such as bird's eye or habanero, added to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups cooked long-grain non-aromatic rice, such as Carolina Gold (about 3/4 cups uncooked; leftover rice is good)
Toss in a handful of chopped shrimp if you want.
Pour oil into an 8-inch skillet, adding more, if needed, to make sure it coats the entire bottom of the pan. Heat over medium to medium-high heat, and add the okra. Cook, stirring occasionally, until okra is slightly browned and tender, about 4 minutes. Cover to allow okra to steam for a bit, until tender, 1 to 4 minutes more.
Add everything else but the rice, and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring frequently. Increase heat to high, and add rice, stirring gently but constantly for about 2 minutes. If you want the rice to brown, like fried rice, you can cook the mixture longer. Taste frequently, and add more seasoning and oil throughout the process as needed. Serve hot.
Todd Richards' Fried Catfish
Seafood is a building block of black foodways. Frying fish is a ritual, and consuming it is communion. A proper hot sauce is the exclamation point. Porgy or whiting varieties work well in this recipe from Richards, an Atlanta chef. Ask your fishmonger to clean and fillet the catch.
Time: 35 minutes, plus marinating
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups whole buttermilk
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion or onion powder
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds catfish fillets, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
2 cups plain yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups vegetable oil
Combine the buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, granulated garlic, granulated onion and 1 teaspoon each of the salt and black pepper in a large bowl or large resealable plastic freezer bag. Add catfish pieces; cover or seal and refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours.
Whisk together the cornmeal, cayenne and remaining 3 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a shallow dish or pie pan.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet to 350 degrees over medium.
Remove the catfish from the buttermilk mixture, and dredge in the cornmeal. Let stand 5 minutes.
Fry the catfish (large pieces first), in batches, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve with additional hot sauce.
Tip: If you're using boneless catfish, this dish can be served as a sandwich