Watermelon is one of the first foods that come to mind when I think of 4th of July bar-b-ques and picnics. It’s a summertime favorite. Sweet, refreshing, good for you. Yet, the association of watermelon with Blacks in America, pictured as lazy simpletons, made for some distastefully juicy humor at the expense of a nation of people who loved the fruit as much then, as we all do today.
It’s disheartening to know that some Black people will not eat watermelon to this day because of this stigma, regardless of how good it for you. Watermelon is soaked with nutrients, each mouthwatering bite has significant levels of vitamins A, B6 and C and is nicknamed “liquid love” because it is a rich source of citrulline, an amino acid that enhances male sexual performance (it relaxes and dilates the blood vessels much like Viagra) making this slave diet food all the rave of late. It should be noted; however, that the sweet watermelon can be found in a medieval manuscript, the Tacuinum Sanitatis, which is a guide to healthy living based on an 11th century Arabic manuscript. It’s what the angels eat.
As we celebrate the independence of the 13 colonies that represented America in 1776 from Great Britain with fireworks and feasts sure to include watermelon, it’s hard not to recognize that it wasn’t for almost another 100 years, by executive order in 1863 (the Emancipation Proclamation), that the Black people in America gained their independence; all the while, the nation’s laughing stalk. The United States is the largest producer of watermelon and no doubt the farmers of this crop in those early days were Black. The under mindedness of the value placed on Black people and this bountiful crop was crude and shameful to say the least. It’s glorious though, to see the influence and the evolution of both Black people in America and of the recipes starring watermelon. It was the recipe on the cover of the July/August 2017 issue of Louisiana Cookin’ for Watermelon Shrimp Salad that inspired me to write this post. It is a beautiful, flavorful summer salad that I instantly said yes to, a “done up” watermelon salad with a “done up” watermelon cocktail. I curated a cooking playlist to make this dish and another recipe from the New York Times for my beach picnic and discovered a song called Watermelon Man by Johnnie Taylor on Spotify, the Watermelon Man is super cool and appropriate for what I felt as I danced and cooked. My Beach Picnic Playlist connected me even more to my cooking experience.
Fried chicken, another American favorite, has negative connotations associated with Blacks and is also another common dish found in summer celebrations. For my beach picnic I used a The New York Times recipe for Fried Chicken Biscuits with Hot Honey Butter. Talk about movin’ on up. I enjoyed the results of the double-dredged crust for the fried chicken that the recipe called for. One layer of flour and cayenne pepper and one layer of panko. I would have customarily used the flour mixture for each dredge. The recipe also called for the thigh, which I also like because its the juiciest part of the chicken, the dark meat. A feeling of nostalgia overcame me while making the biscuits, that seems to always happen when I do anything related to baking.
A signature drink is always a fun addition to celebratory dinners. Aretha Franklin’s Freeway of Love named the pretty watermelon margarita, Pink Cadillac. Trading out triple sec for Grand Marnier and for all of the health benefits of fresh watermelon juice makes this cocktail a high-end ride just like Aretha’s whip.
- 2 cups Watermelon, cubed & juiced
- 1 cup Silver Tequila, 100% Agave
- 2oz Grand Marnier
- 1/4 cup Lime Juice, juiced
- 1/3 cup Simple Syrup, infused with orange zest
Watermelon and fried chicken is a mainstay in American cuisine with a cynical history no matter how we dress it up, it’s bitter-sweet, yet it is a part of this nation’s food history that makes the fabric of this country.
Happy 4th of July ~ 2017
The Telltale Kitchen (cafelamour.me; alovecafe; gina’skitchen, spellbindingcuisine) reveals traditions, beliefs, myths and secrets of food and cooking.