Celebrating Juneteenth Through Food, Music, and More

A new cookbook for kids shares Juneteenth history and tradition through recipes, as well activities for the whole family.

Food is often central to holiday celebrations, Juneteenth among them. Author Alliah L. Agostini set out to bring the history and traditions of the day together for kids in The ­Juneteenth Cookbook: Recipes and Activities for Kids and Families to Celebrate.

“We decided to do a book to bring Juneteenth to life through recipes, so it can add to the celebration and teach kids in more of a hands-on way,” she says.

But this is not just a cookbook with the typical chapters of drinks, appetizers, mains, sides, and desserts. Agostini has included a music playlist in “Cookout DJ 101,” suggestions for field trips around the country (as well as online options), and a medallion necklace craft.

“We wanted to do some things like field trips and crafts and other ways that could bring the celebration to life for families or community centers,” Agostini says. The options could also work as programming and activities for school or public libraries.

Agostini collaborated with chef Taffy Elrod to make sure the recipes didn’t just connect to Juneteenth, but also worked well and tasted great. She researched “Black food bibles” for common themes and foods that she and Elrod could put their own spin on. They prioritized options that used easily attainable and affordable ingredients and foods that could not only be made by kids, but that kids would also enjoy eating.  

In the process of creating the cookbook, Agostini expanded on the research she had done for her picture book, The Juneteenth Storyand discovered new and interesting things.

“One thing that really stood out to me [with] the Watermelon Snow Cups recipe was the connection of Mexico to freedom for enslaved Texans,” she says. “So many people think about people wanting to come into this country from south of the border, but there was a moment in time when it was actually going the reverse way. I thought that was really powerful, and something that a lot of people need to understand about the past.”

So Agostini sought to bring an element of Mexico to the recipe as an introduction to discussing this piece of history.

“I introduced Tajín, a chili lime seasoning, which is more common in the U.S. now, but comes from Mexico,” says Agostini. “I use that as an ingredient, but also as a moment to talk about the connection of emancipation of people that fled to freedom in Mexico.”

Instead of photographs of the food, Agostini’s editor Cara Donaldson suggested they use illustrations. Sawyer Cloud did the artwork in the book.

“I'm so glad we made that choice,” says Agostini. “Sometimes I feel when there's a photograph, you feel like you're obligated to make it exactly as the photograph looks. You might feel a little bit disappointed if it doesn't look exactly the same. But I think with an illustrated rendition, it gives people a little bit more freedom and a little bit more grace if theirs doesn't look exactly the same. This is Sawyer's first time illustrating food, and I think she did an incredible job.”

In the end, The ­Juneteenth Cookbook is a cookbook that is also a picture book, an activity book, and a history book.

“I want them to have fun, and I want them to have learned while using it, too,” Agostini says. “The book is about celebrating the essence of Black joy and our culture and bringing it to life for kids. … It's definitely about a multigenerational experience for celebrating the holiday. And I want people to use the recipes, activities, and field trips as a launchpad for more discussion and more celebration.”

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