Delicious Recipes for Your Next Juneteenth Celebration

Try these three sweet and savory recipes to mark the holiday!

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A bowl of Texas caviar Photo by Scott Suchman

Today is Juneteenth, which honors the date in 1865 when the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, at the end of the American Civil War. The following year, African American communities began to organize celebrations, and they often focused on foods—especially red foods to symbolize resilience and joy. Sweet Home Café Cookbook celebrates African American cooking and draws upon traditions of family and fellowship strengthened by shared meals, and today we present three recipes that are perfect for your Juneteenth festivites.

Sweet Home Café Cookbook: A Celebration of African American Cooking

A celebration of African American cooking with 109 recipes from the National Museum of African American History and Culture's Sweet Home Café. A James Beard Foundation Book Award nominee for best American cookbook; a Food & Wine best cookbook; a Booklist top 10 food book; an Essence, and more.

1. Texas caviar

Also known as marinated black-eyed peas, Texas caviar is the state’s version of a marinated bean salad. It consists of only black-eyed peas or of a mix of various beans, minced bell pepper and corn. Created around 1940, it has become a Lone Star classic and is guaranteed to turn up at many a Juneteenth celebration.
Texas Caviar. Photo by Scott Suchman


Serves 4-6 people

Active time: 20 minutes

Total time: 4 hours and 20 minutes

  • 2½ cups cooked black-eyed peas, preferably from fresh or frozen (rinse and drain well if using canned peas)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 6 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced ¼ cup red onion, diced ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Hot sauce, for seasoning


In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and gently mix until well blended. Add the cumin and salt. Adjust the seasoning with black pepper and hot sauce to taste. Transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for a minimum of 4 hours.

Serve as a side salad or with tortilla chips.

2. Sweet cherry lemonade

Lemonade is popular throughout the South, and the addition of homemade sweet cherry syrup turns it red, making it an ideal drink for Juneteenth picnics and celebrations. Red drinks are traditional at Juneteenth events and may recall the celebratory hibiscus and kola nut teas of West Africa.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

Active time: 45 minutes

Total time: 6 hours and 45 minutes

  • 1 pound pitted fresh or frozen Bing cherries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water


  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 8 cups cold water, divided 1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 10 lemons 2 lemons, thinly sliced and seeded, for garnish
Sweet cherry lemonade  Photo by Scott Suchman


Combine the cherries, sugar, and water in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing against the solids to extract as much syrup as possible. Pour into a bottle and chill well before using.


Combine the sugar and 1 cup of the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the lemon juice and the remaining 7 cups water to the cooled sugar water and mix well. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours, until well chilled.

Serve the chilled lemonade over ice in tall glasses. Invite guests to sweeten it to their liking with the Sweet Cherry Syrup.

3. Red velvet cake

Although many think that red velvet cake has been an American standby for centuries, it is actually a 20th-century invention, having originated in the 1920s. The ruby-hued chocolate cake was later adopted with delight by African Americans and began turning up on their menus. The famous Amy Ruth’s soul food restaurant in Harlem began serving it in 1998, and Cake Man Raven opened one of the first bakeries devoted to the cake in Brooklyn in 2000.

Makes 1 2-inch layer cake

Active time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch-process
  • cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk, preferably full fat
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Bourbon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar


  • ½ pound (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted 1 teaspoon Bourbon vanilla extract 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour two 8-by-3-inch nonstick cake pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

Combine the oil, eggs, sugar, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is smooth.

Set the mixer at low speed and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing just to the point a batter has formed. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then mix for another 30 seconds.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake until the cake pulls away slightly from the sides of the pans, about 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Invert the cakes onto wire racks, lift off the pan, turn upright, and let cool to room temperature.

Combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of the stand mixer. With the paddle attachment, mix the ingredients on medium speed until they are smooth and creamy. Add the cream cheese and mascarpone and mix until well blended.


Using a long serrated knife, shave off a very thin layer of cake from the top and bottom of each cake layer (this will help the frosting cling to the cake). Place the trimmings in the bowl of a food processor and process to very fine crumbs; reserve for the decoration.

Set one of the cake layers on a cake stand. With a narrow offset spatula, spread a layer of frosting across the top of the first layer, spreading it to an even depth of ½ inch. Place the second cake layer on top. With the remaining frosting, evenly cover the sides and top of the cake.

Mix together the reserved cake crumbs and pecans. Immediately after applying frosting, decorate the sides of the cake with a thin layer of the crumb mixture. The top of the cake should remain frosted white. Store the cake in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook is available from Smithsonian Books. Visit Smithsonian Books’ website to learn more about its publications and a full list of titles. 

Excerpt from Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook © 2018 by Smithsonian Institution. Recipes © 2018 by Smithsonian Institution and Restaurant Associates. Food photography © 2018 by Scott Suchman, Smithsonian Institution, and Restaurant Associates.