The Gravy: In the Kitchen with Antoinette K-Doe

mar 09 gravy antoinette“I just love to cook. When I’m cooking, my mother and grandmother are inside of me, so that means a lot. And that’s all I know, is to cook and feed people. My grandmother was a seamstress and a darn good cook. As a kid, I didn’t go outside to play with the children. I always wanted to learn, learn how to cook and learn how to sew. And my grandmother taught me that. I am a seamstress and a designer, newspaper patterns or out of my head.

My grandmother and my mother raised me. My father was absent and you know how that goes, right? I grew up in Gerttown and then we moved to the Ninth Ward.

The cooking and eating we had back then, I would describe it today as a work of art. It was something that people took pride in. They didn’t go to restaurants. We were too poor. So my grandmother would cook; and we had one neighbor, she farmed chickens. She had a lot of eggs, so my grandmother and her would swap. Eggs for whatever we grew and whatever anybody else grew. We grew snap beans, somebody else grew greens, and they swapped.

We went to the market and bought some things, like if our squash didn’t do good, or mirlitons or something, then we went to buy it. But everybody had mirlitons. They grew on your fence, made it look pretty. Whatever neighbor would have pecan trees, we’d go pick pecans. That’s how we made it; you learned how to survive. And it’s getting back to that time. People don’t believe it, but it is getting back.

I go to the store and I have to buy things because I don’t have enough yard to plant what I know how to plant. I plant peppers, hot peppers, shallots and mustard greens, enough mustard greens to give to all our senior citizen neighbors. I do have flowers in there, but I have to find myself another little spot to plant mustard greens, because I love mustards. Flowers and vegetables, I like both of them, but I know what I need. I need a lot of veggies. Flowers are beautiful, they bring you joy, but they don’t take care of your body.

I don’t cook just for myself or four people. My grandmother always said, ‘If you have six people in your family, you make sure you cook for twelve.’ Because somebody always comes into your house, and then you can offer them something to eat. But if you cook the amount for your family, you cannot share with anybody else. And that’s what I do; I share. So when I make cornbread, I make a sheet pan of cornbread.

My grandmother had some very, very old recipes. I have two of them that I cook all the time myself. Red beans and gumbo. And I can tell you this; I don’t do a gumbo with a roux. The recipe is a very, very secret recipe. I have been asked to go on TV and cook it, but I don’t want to give up my recipe—it’s my grandmother’s recipe. The only person that knows that recipe is me and Ernie K-Doe. Now if he’d tell you, you’re okay. And I cook by smell and taste. I can’t tell you how much I put into something because I don’t know myself.

Ernie’s favorite meal was red beans and rice. We used to go out of dinner and come home and he would say, ‘Baby, I want some red beans.’ All this Cajun food, I don’t cook that because I do not know how to cook that. It’s not New Orleans. New Orleans is make your own cornbread, cooked from scratch. In the supermarket, there are only two aisles I don’t go down. That’s the baby food, and the dog food. I don’t have no more babies, and I sure don’t have time for no dogs.”

Antoinette K-Doe’s Cornbread

This is your regular cornbread with two differences—the batter is poured into hot oil, creating a crispy bottom crust, and there is no fat in the actual batter; butter is added on top of the cornbread at the end. “If I don’t have milk, I use the commodity dry milk, because somebody’s always bringing me a bag of milk. I use it for cooking, because you don’t waste anything.” Antoinette K-Doe used to use Crisco instead of olive oil, but a heart attack taught her a healthier and more delicious way.

¼ cup olive oil
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
2 cups milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick butter, softened

Pour olive oil into a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan and place it in an oven pre-heated to somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees (you know your oven). Stir all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add milk and eggs and stir until everything comes together. Pour batter into hot oil and bake for 20-30 minutes, until lightly golden. Spread butter on top and bake for another 5-10 minutes.