June 19, or Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the last remaining slaves in America were proclaimed free, takes on greater meaning, this year, amid the ongoing demonstrations for racial equality. A local chef is offering a tempting way to commemorate this important holiday.
Kelli Sherelle Scott of Irvington is putting together a DIY meal kit of traditional Geechee cuisine, along with a companion YouTube video that explains it all. “Everything we know about so-called ‘soul food’ comes from the Gullah Geechee people of West Africa who were slaves in the Deep South, brought here because of their strong knowledge of rice farming,” says Scott, who hails from Walker, Louisiana, a suburb of Baton Rouge.
Part of the transatlantic slave trade, the Gullah Geechee people were among the first African Americans to arrive in the U.S., shipped from Sierra Leone and other West African countries to the barrier islands and coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In addition to rice, they were charged with growing crops like peanuts, watermelon, tomatoes, okra, and leafy greens.
For generations after the abolition of slavery, the Gullah Geechee people remained fairly insular in the communities where their ancestors worked the plantations, faithfully preserving their culture, customs, and even their own dialect that mixes English and African tongues. Their cuisine, resembling Creole cooking, is largely grain-based, with the omnipresence of rice, stewed greens, braised vegetables, and local seafood and meats that come together in hearty bowls of savory, southern-style goodness.
Scott’s Juneteenth meal kit will immerse diners in traditional Geechee fare with 7-courses ($200 per couple) of simple, heat-and-serve items beginning with an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, followed by Gumbo Z’Herbes, a verdant soup of collard and turnip greens, kale, spinach, and arugula. A refreshing salad of watermelon, cucumber, and tomato comes next, and leads nicely to a Creole pasta dish of gnocchi with tomato, sausage, and crab. The two entrees (yes, two) include oxtail with grits and callaloo, or spinach greens, and Seafood Pirlau, which is a jambalaya of grouper, scallops, clams, and shrimp with lemon, lardons, and tomatoes. For dessert: chewy nutty bars.
Kits can be picked up on Friday, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., at The Church of St. Barnabas in Irvington. Heating instructions and a link to Scott’s YouTube video on Gullah Geechee culture and cuisine will be included. The village of Irvington, itself, is celebrating Juneteenth on Friday with a food, music, and art festival on Main Street from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Prior to the COVID-19 quarantine, Scott had been hosting local pop-up dinners that were paired with a healthy dose of food talk and learning. “As chefs, we have a responsibility to educate and inform, and we can do that through our cooking.” For Scott, that involves the “art of storytelling” about food, cuisines, and cultures that deserve to be celebrated in the mainstream.
Juneteenth Geechee Meal Kits
The Church of St. Barnabas
Pickup June 19, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
To order, call 225.953.9001