Growing up in the South, I drank a sugar shock-inducing amount of garishly colored Nehi grape and orange sodas, but I never heard of a strawberry soda. Maybe that’s because I hadn’t yet heard of Juneteenth, which each year on June 19 celebrates the end of slavery.
Why a holiday in June when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves on January 1, 1863? That’s because in 1863, President Lincoln’s order did not apply to the Southern states that were busy fighting the Civil War. Only when the United States won the war in April, 1865 and the South rejoined the Union did slavery finally end. It still took until June 19, 1865 for Union soldiers to reach Galveston, Texas, once part of the Confederacy, to tell the slaves there that they were free. A celebration has taken place on June 19 ever since.
Texas recognizes Juneteenth as a state holiday, and events also take place around the country, especially in African-American communities in the South. This photo shows a Juneteenth “Emancipation Day” parade in Richmond in 1905. Strawberry soda typically accompanies barbecue and other red foods, such as red rice (rice with tomatoes), watermelon, strawberry pie, and red velvet cake.
I adapted this recipe from a decidedly un-ethnic source: Bon Appetit. It seems more designed for cocktails than picnics, but I chose it because it can be increased for groups of all sizes. It’s also easily adaptable. Substitute mint for basil, lime for lemon, and add gin if you’re serving adults. Slavery ended more than 150 years ago, but we can still raise a glass of strawberry soda to the end of this pernicious system that was a scourge to the freedom proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
6 basil leaves
5 strawberries, cut in half, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup soda water
- In a cocktail shaker or pitcher, combine the lemon juice, sugar, basil, strawberries, and salt. Use the handle of a wooden spoon or a muddler to mash the ingredients together until the sugar dissolves.
- Pour in the soda water and 2-3 ice cubes. Stir to combine.
- Strain the soda through the lid of the cocktail shaker or a strainer. Add more ice and garnish with strawberry slices.