Celebrating Juneteenth, in Texas and beyond

Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 19, 2014

Before working on yesterday’s big Juneteenth food story, I had no idea that today’s holiday honoring the emancipation of slaves in Texas was celebrated so far outside the Lone Star State.

Clifford Robinson, the founder of Juneteenth.com who lives in New Orleans and doesn’t have many ties to Texas, says that people of many ethnicities all around the country and even those who have lived here and then moved abroad use June 19 to acknowledge the cultural significance of ending slavery and why we should still be concerned about those in the world who continue to be enslaved.

“It’s not a black celebration; it’s a celebration of freedom,” Robinson says. “Everyone was involved in the ending of slavery, and it brings everyone to the table to talk about the repression of slavery and how do you heal.”

Even though I’d just had this conversation with him, I was surprised to see a story this week in the Springfield News-Leader, the newspaper that I read when I’m at my parents’ house in Southwest Missouri, about a Juneteenth celebration in Springfield, which is about as far (at least culturally) from Galveston, the birthplace of Juneteenth, as you can get.

You can read the rest of the story about some of the Juneteenth foodways, including the roots of red soda water (and Big Red) that go back to the West Coast of Africa, in this column that ran in yesterday’s paper.

This week, especially Saturday, after Austin’s Juneteenth parade that ends in Rosewood Park, will be full of backyard barbecues, many of which will feature staples like potato salad, mac and cheese and slow-cooked meats, like these pork ribs from “Back Home with the Neelys: Comfort Food from Our Southern Kitchen to Yours” by Pat Neely, Gina Neely and Ann Volkwein (Knopf, $27.95). They are oven-roasted, which takes away from some of the fun of getting up at 4 a.m. to tend the pits, but these ribs are perfect for cooking ahead of time and then reheating when it’s time to eat.

Oven-Roasted Ribs

2 Tbsp. kosher salt

2 Tbsp. light-brown sugar

2 Tbsp. paprika

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. smoked paprika

2 racks baby back ribs (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds each rack)

Your favorite barbecue sauce, homemade or store bought

Whisk all the ingredients except ribs and barbecue sauce together in a small bowl. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels, and place them, curl side up, on a flat work surface.

Using your fingers, pull off the thick white membrane on the underside of the ribs. This will allow the flavors of the rub to permeate the meat fully. Place the ribs on a rimmed sheet tray, and season all sides with the spice rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day in advance.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the ribs in a roasting pan, meat side up, and cover tightly with foil. Roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn up heat to 450 degrees. Generously baste ribs with barbecue sauce on both sides.

Place back in oven and roast for 15 minutes more, or until the outsides of the ribs are nicely browned in spots and glazed well with the sauce. Slice between the bones into individual ribs. Serve with extra sauce on the side. Serves 4.

— From “Back Home with the Neelys: Comfort Food from Our Southern Kitchen to Yours” by Pat Neely, Gina Neely and Ann Volkwein (Knopf, $27.95)

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