The women of Karla Hill's "Sistah Circle" -- founded seven years ago, "ostensibly as a book club," she says -- don't have many rules. Their meetings have loose starting times, no one takes attendance, and in the past few years, even that whole reading thing has fallen off: "The food has sort of taken over," Hill says.

But one rule that no one dares break is that someone must be the bearer of deviled eggs. "One time, the person who was supposed to bring them didn't come, and there was almost a riot!" Hill recalls. It's a tradition, she explains, that "any black social function has to have the eggs." Period.

Only twice a year -- once in summer and once in winter -- do the women share this bounty by opening their food-fests to husbands, children and friends. And in summer, the party happens to coincide with another black tradition: this Saturday's Juneteenth, aka African American Emancipation Day.

June 19, 1865, was the date that word finally arrived in Galveston, Tex., that the slaves had been freed -- more than two years after Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, it's an annual rite of cultural reflection and community strength. "Everyone celebrates the independence of the country on July 4, so it's also good to celebrate the event that made everyone a part of that independence," says Renee Catacalos, host of this year's sistah shindig.

In addition to putting a Juneteenth history lesson on her menu, Catacalos has devised an abundant feast: roasted chicken, potato and green bean salad, and, "in a nod to Texas, without which we wouldn't have Juneteenth," a barbecued beef brisket. But the true stars, not surprisingly, are the two dozen eggs, half with the traditional sweet pickle relish, the rest jazzed up with curry powder. Guests line up for them, illustrating the last, most important sistah rule: When it comes to deviled eggs, Hill says, "if you're late, you lose."

Jennifer Balderama