Cookbook author Nicole A. Taylor‘s “Watermelon and Red Birds” isn’t just the first cookbook dedicated solely to Juneteenth, it’s also a meditation on the way Black culture has historically often expressed itself through food and drink through both good times and bad. And sometimes even the simplest and humblest morsel can take on greater significance when seen through the lens of Black history.
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Take the corn dog, that staple of fairgrounds for over a century — and the grandfather of today’s food-on-a-stick craze. Texas is the birthplace of Juneteenth. But the State Fair of Texas lays claim as the birthplace of the beloved fried treat back in 1942— but even though state fairs had become important places for many Black families to have fun in public as they left rural parts of the South for work opportunities in the cities, Black attendees by and large weren’t the ones eating corn dogs at the Texas state fair. That’s because Blacks were only allowed to go to the fair on what was called Negro Achievement Day.
In fact, even that segregation was in some ways a better Texas state fair experience than what many Black Texans had grown up with. When the fair was first opened in 1886, Blacks weren’t allowed. In 1889, the organizers began to include a Colored People’s Day — the one day a year nonwhites would be admitted. But that only lasted till 1910, when Colored People’s Day was abolished. In 1923 the fair even held a Ku Klux Klan Day to promote Klan membership — but Blacks still weren’t allowed back in until 1936, with Negro Achievement Day, again the single day of the year for nonwhites.
It wasn’t until 1967 that the State Fair of Texas was fully desegregated, but even after that, the controversies continued, including the fair tearing down nearby Black housing so that white fairgoers didn’t have to witness Black poverty or feel guilty as they had their fun.
So today, when Black fairgoers order and eat a corn dog at the State Fair of Texas, they’re not just biting into a delightfully caloric fried treat — they’re also getting a taste of something that was a kind of forbidden fruit to many Black families only decades earlier.
Here’s Nicole A. Taylor’s recipe for corn dogs, excerpted from her new book, “Watermelon and Red Birds.”
The land of liberty, my native country, can’t claim to have invented the hot dog, but we did invent the corn dog. Carl and Neil Fletcher were the first people to deep-fry hot dogs in cornbread batter, a concoction invented and sold as “Fletcher’s CornyDogs” at the Texas state fair in 1942.
2 quarts peanut oil, for frying
6 hot dogs
2 tablespoons cornstarch
CORN DOG BATTER:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
1½ cups light beer
Special equipment: 6 wooden skewers
In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the peanut oil over medium- high heat until it reaches 375ºF on an instant-read or deep-fry thermometer.
Line a plate with paper towels and set it nearby.
Insert a skewer halfway into each hot dog. Place the cornstarch in a baking dish and dust each hot dog with the cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Set aside.
FOR THE CORN DOG BATTER: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, thyme, garlic powder and salt until well combined. Add the egg and the beer to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and combined; the batter should be thicker than pancake batter, more like a thin cake batter.
Pour the batter into a tall glass and dip each hot dog into the batter to fully coat, allowing the excess to drip off. Immediately place the hot dog in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Use metal tongs to flip the corn dog over to brown the other side. When the corn dog is golden, use the tongs to grab the end of the skewer and transfer it to the paper towel–lined plate.
Repeat with the remaining hot dogs. Serve immediately.
Excerpted from “WATERMELON AND RED BIRDS” by Nicole A. Taylor. Copyright © 2022 by Nicole A. Taylor. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
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