MYF - Joanne Hillhouse

>> Wednesday 12 March 2014

Welcome! It's time for another feature of the MY FOOD Project.

MY FOOD is an online project of my ongoing research into Caribbean food culture and food heritage. The project seeks to explore how we think about food, how we use it to connect and communicate, and the importance of food to our identity. For full details of the project and how you can participate, click here.

Joining us this week is a well-known author from Antigua & Barbuda, Joanne Hillhouse.

Joanne, I know that you, like many others, are always busy, so thanks for taking the time to share with MY FOOD. Welcome!

Joanne Hillhouse photo cookingmagic2013withhostErnaMae_zps20d52aad.jpgMYF Living at home photo 200pxathome_zpscaa18bb4.jpg
L: Joanne Hillhouse R: Erna Mae Tonge Brathwaite
Photo courtesy ©Cooking Magic

MF: How would you describe the food of Antigua & Barbuda?
JH: Home food, because so much of the food like Fungee and Pepperpot, I only ever eat when my mom cooks them, so it is a taste of home to me.

Fungee is another name for Cornmeal Cou-Cou, it is made with the same ingredients. Antiguan Pepperpot is very different from Guyanese Pepperpot. The Antiguan version is a hearty soup made of greens, eggplant, young eddo-leaves, peas, flour dumplings, herbs and pickled meats like salt beef and pig tails. (Thanks to Freda Gore for this valuable information).

MF: What is your favourite dish?
JH: Pepperpot. Because e bang good! Red Bean Soup is good too... but both are not everyday foods because they take a lot of time to prepare and they are very filling. Maybe the rarity is what makes them so special.
MF: What is your general eating style? Do you have a weekday-weekend system of eating?
JH: I don't think I have an eating style but I do identify certain foods with certain days - like salt fish is for Sunday morning, rice pudding (black pudding made with blood and rice) is for Saturdays, and Fungee and other local foods are never eaten on Sundays. Good Friday is Macaroni for me because I don't eat Ducana (a steamed sweet dumpling made of grated sweet potatoes, coconut, raisins, spices, and flour). Ducana and salt fish is a Good Friday tradition in Antigua.
MF: What is a typical weekend dish that you look forward to?
JH: I don't have one... but if my mom makes Sunday morning breakfast it takes me back (Sunday morning breakfast = salt fish stewed with lots of tomatoes, eggplant & spinach served with hard boiled eggs and Johnny Cakes). This breakfast gives me a weird sort of nostalgic feeling; nostalgia for what, I'm not specifically sure. But it feels like a pattern almost as old as me, as much of a Sunday ritual as the familiar rhythms of a Catholic mass.
MF: If you had to choose a dish or beverage that marks or identifies you as an Antiguan, what would it be?
JH: Pepperpot, specifically home-cooked Pepperpot. In fact, when I wanted to include a kitchen scene in my book, Oh Gad! I went straight to Pepperpot. It's my favourite dish and since I only eat my mother's Pepperpot I really identify it with my mother and got her to explain the making of it to me for incorporation in the book, which is unusual in itself since she's the typical: if you want to learn come-and-put-hand type of Caribbean cook. Pepperpot is also part of Antigua's national dish. I say part because the national dish is actually Fungee and Pepperpot, though this was never as a single meal in my household so I didn't know it like that. Fungee was eaten with okroe, cassie (young cactus) and preferably conchs or fish (I later found out that the conch-thing was a peculiarity of our household), and Pepperpot was a meal all by itself, a thick, filling soup that felt like it had everything good mixed up in it.
MF: Food is at the center of most holidays and festivals. Which is your favourite holiday/festival food?
JH: I look forward to the Christmas ham and turkey.
MF: Where do you generally shop for your food (vegetables, fruits etc.)
JH: The supermarket - because I hate shopping, even for food, so I just like to go one place and be in and out and not have to leave or go to this other place and that. Market Day with my tanty when I was a kid, (from a kid's perspective) used to feel like it took forever... because of all the catching up adults did.
MF: Can you cook?
JH: I can. I am the lasagna maker whenever we have lasagna, say, at Christmas... but that is as complicated as my skills get and the instructions are right there on the box. It's not a love but I can cook to eat...if I don't get lost in a story I am writing and forget the pot is on the stove.
MF: So you can cook but do you cook?
JH: Hmmm, honestly, my mom and I live together and she does most of the cooking, but I fill in as needed.
MF: What is the one dish that you can whip up in no time and can make off the top of your head (without a recipe)?
JH: Well, since I never use a recipe (lasagna aside) most of what I cook is off the top of my head and is usually something that takes the least time to make so probably a one-pot mix-up, which I think is one of those Antiguan go-to(s) anyway, especially when you grow up with more mouths to feed than money and the food has to stretch. Uncomplicated too; I can't do any of the complex and time-consuming local dishes like Pepperpot and Fungee... I need to go and put-hand some time so I can learn. Sidebar: I've made two promotional appearances: cooking shows and both times they set me to turn Fungee... go figure.
MF: Do you eat street-food? If yes, what's your favourite?
JH: I used to like Jerk Chicken, a holdover from my time studying in Jamaica probably, but I haven't had good Jerk Chicken in a while. On the Antiguan end, I like Rice Pudding(not that sweet, porridgy stuff I only ever saw on TV, that's not what we call Rice Pudding. Our Rice Pudding is what some people call blood pudding). I stopped eating it for a long time as a kid when I realised how it was made, but e too sweet, I had to go back. Barbecue is probably the street food I eat the most though.
MF: Your Rice Pudding sounds very much like the Guyanese Black Pudding. Moving on. If you were having overseas guests (visitors who are not from the Caribbean) and you needed to make a couple of dishes that say this is Antigua & Barbuda's food. What would they be?
JH: What I'd be making? Probably reservations. It's so weird, me filling out this questionnaire because I'm not big on cooking. However, I've invited people over and cooked for them. I did a Mexican-themed-food movie night once with guacamole and burritos. Another time, I remember doing fried plantains that came out more like plantain chips. If someone else was making the quintessential Antiguan dishes, they'd make Pepperpot, Fungee, Soursop drink or some other local fruit drink. For dessert, sugar cake or other local sweets like fudge or guava cheese.
MF: Do you cook dishes from other parts of the Caribbean?
JH: I eat dishes from other parts of the Caribbean. And I always like sampling the local beer when I travel.
MF: If you could take a food journey anywhere in the world, where would you want to go and why?
JH: I've been to Greece and Italy. The why has a lot to do with me being a book lover and the books or films I've read or seen, set in these places and the mythology that was part of my study of literature, and other earlier things. Much as I love pizza, I don't even remember having pizza when I was in Italy so it wasn't so much about the food. The continent of Africa - I'd like to visit there some day - because that's our ancestral homeland, isn't it? And New Orleans - mostly because I got hooked by the literature and want to experience the culture. Truthfully though, anywhere in the world, and I am grateful that my work and journey as a writer has afforded me some opportunities in this regard. Oh, I'd like to go to Australia and New Zealand too... because they seem like a places of great adventure... and hot men.
MF: Quite a note to end on. Thank you!

Joanne blogs at Jhohadli
Find Joanne on Facebook
Shop her books: Oh Gad! and The Boy From Willow Bend on Amazon.

New logo photo 160pxnewlogo_zpsb841e265.jpg

Would you like to share your food with MY FOOD? Know someone that does? Leave a comment below or inbox me directly. The project is open to anyone that falls into any of the categories below and you do NOT need to have a blog to participate.


  • Caribbean/West Indian living at home.
  • Caribbean/West Indian living abroad (1st, 2nd, 3rd generation. State which generation you are).
  • Non-Caribbean/West Indian married to/partnered with Caribbean/West Indian folk.
  • Non-Caribbean/West Indian but the region has been home for at least 5 years

Join the conversation below or on Facebook, and don't forget that you too can participate, get the details here. The next instalment of MY FOOD is on Wednesday, March 26.

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