Celebrate Juneteenth With a Lowcountry Twist

On Food Network's The Juneteenth Menu, Michiel Perry of lifestyle brand Black Southern Belle finds inspiration from her Lowcountry roots.

Michiel Perry The Juneteenth Menu
Photo: Courtesy of The Food Network

Juneteenth is one of my favorite times of the year. It marks a pivotal moment in American history when the news that African Americans were free from slavery finally reached those in Galveston, Texas, sparking an annual day of celebration that continues today on June 19. When the opportunity arose to film The Juneteenth Menu, a Food Network digital series, I was thrilled to highlight the contributions of Black women in the Lowcountry, where I grew up.

No Juneteenth celebration is complete without food—especially barbecue. But my menu is a little different. In one episode, Gina Willis of What's Gina Cooking makes crispy fried whiting, which is something you're more likely to find here, where seafood is plentiful. (The fish is also a nod to Galveston, which is a coastal city.) In another episode, chef Charlotte Jenkins, who was brought up in the Gullah tradition, cooks okra pilau with ham and bacon, and talks about the importance of rice, which was grown by enslaved people in South Carolina, and remains a staple crop for Gullah people. My recipe, for grilled shrimp and sausage skewers, is basted with with a mixture of muscadine wine and spices for a sweet and savory flavor. The dish is inspired by my memories of growing up and picking muscadine grapes at my grandfather's vineyard.

I was surprised to learn that across all generations and various Lowcountry geographies, there were many of the same food, entrepreneurship, and stories connecting us all, from Black families owning fish markets, to living and playing on family-owned land, to learning to cook our first meals. The Gullah lifestyle and traditions flow through so many aspects of life.

We filmed this project right from my front porch in my small town of Walterboro, South Carolina, with the love and support of the community, and quite a few neighbors passing by throughout the day and waving hello. In true Southern fashion, humidity and heavy rainstorms showed up, but it didn't stop the fun; that's what it's like to host an outdoor party in the Lowcountry. You roll with it, and we did!

I loved so many things about working on this series, but most of all, I loved connecting with these women and learning about what makes them passionate about Gullah cuisine. I'm inspired to pass down these traditions with my children on Juneteenth and beyond, and to connect with the elders in my family to explore new traditions. I hope other families are inspired to do the same.

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