Heirloom Kitchen, a cookbook review

Who doesn’t love heritage recipes?  Cookbook author Anna Francese Gass started her collection by carefully recording her own mother’s Italian recipes.  (Which is quite a feat in my opinion! I’ve been trying to do the same with my mom, and my mom is just so uncooperative.  lol!) That dedication eventually led Gass to record and collect the recipes of other women who have immigrated to the US, and released her collection as Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories From the Tables of Immigrant Women.

The book is divided by locations:

  • Europe
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Central and South America
  • Middle East

The book is beautifully done.  There’s a mini-biography on each of the women who contributed their recipes, and a lot of tantalizing food photos.  I think there’s a good mix of recipes the general public is already familiar with, and recipes that are unfamiliar.

Here’s a sample of the recipes you will find in this book:

  • Arancini (Italian rice balls)
  • Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread
  • Borscht (Beef and Beet Stew)
  • Siberian Pelmeni (Pork and Beef Dumplings)
  • Schmorgurken (Ground Meat with Braised Cucumbers)
  • Spanakopita
  • Cullen Skink
  • Chicken Tagine
  • Winter Melon Soup
  • Poul Ak Nura (Cashew Chicken)
  • Palaw (Beef and Rich with Carrot Raisin Dressing)
  • Tahdig (Scorched Rice)

For this review, I wanted to make the Winter Melon Soup (because yay! Cantonese represent!) but I wasn’t going to have a chance to stop by an Asian market anytime soon.  Since I’m a sucker for quick breads, I ended up making the Jamaican Toto which is a spiced quick bread (aka cake) with coconut and raisins.

Had I been a total novice, the bread would have been a disaster.  The ingredient list is: butter, brown sugar, all purpose flour, baking powder, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, vanilla extract, grated coconut, and raisins.  Do you spot anything missing?

There’s no liquid.  There’s no egg. I’m willing to believe that the original recipe might not have had egg, but it had to have had a liquid.  It’s just tasty sand otherwise. I re-read the ingredients and the instructions about five times when I realized something was wrong.  Key ingredients were missing.

I went ahead, randomly grabbed buttermilk, added one egg, and finished the recipe.  Looking back I should have researched other Jamaican toto recipes online. It looks like I should have been using evaporated milk or coconut milk.  (I was in the kitchen soon after getting up from bed. I was not thinking at 100% capacity. I went on gut instinct instead.)

The texture of my final product did not look much like the photo in the book.  (I’ll blame the buttermilk.) So I want to give it a second attempt in the future.  More importantly though, it tasted delicious! (I may have eaten a third of the loaf in one day.  Oops.) So, I definitely want to try making toto again but probably with a different recipe.

The takeaway?  I recommend this book with caution.  The next time I pick out a recipe, I’m going to compare it with other similar recipes before starting.  (I still want to make the winter melon soup recipe. I ran it past my mom for her opinion. My mother makes a different variant of the soup, but said it looked correct.)  I don’t know how well this book was edited, how the recipes were compiled, or how much recipe testing went on. But when all is said and done, I really like the format and the theme of Heirloom Kitchen.  And I think it’s a great source of inspiration.


Reference Links:


(a different toto recipe but this one makes more sense than the one from the book)

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Harper Design for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.