Culinary memoirs are frequently disappointing. Too often, either the story itself is lacking or the recipes are mere throwaways tacked on to the end of chapters. Not so Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros (published in the United States for the first time this April by Andrews McMeel Publishing; 170 recipes; $29.99). Admittedly, we were first seduced by the sheer artistry of the book, but a closer read, followed by weeks of testing the very personal collection of recipes, proved that this memoir is a true gift.
Organized by country, Falling Cloudberries chronicles the author’s life, as revealed, she writes, by “the recipes that have stayed with me.” Compared with other books of this genre, there is relatively little text, but Kiros has a warm voice, and her story is compelling. She was born in London to a Finnish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father and raised primarily in South Africa. There were trips “home” to grandparents, where Iso Isä, her Finnish grandfather, made his gravadlax, and Pappou, her Cypriot grandfather, grilled souvlaki and fried artichokes. As a young woman, she traveled the globe, working in restaurants in Australia, Mexico, and London before settling in Tuscany to marry, raise her girls, and write her cookbooks.
Kiros has carefully chosen recipes that reveal each country’s true palette of flavors, so each chapter serves as a kind of primer. (If you are looking for a recipe for tsatsiki or baccalá, for example, you can rest assured these are the ones that are on the kitchen tables of Greece and Italy, respectively, every day.) And with such an eclectic mix of cuisines, you’re sure to find something new. The Finnish meatballs may be ubiquitous in Finland, but this was certainly the first time I had flavored any meatballs with allspice, made a sour-cream sauce to cover them, and served tart jam as an accompaniment. Now, it won’t be the last. Likewise, I couldn’t quite fathom the South African method of simmering pieces of chicken in water and aromatics, essentially making a broth, before frying them. But, as you’ve probably guessed, this was the most tender fried chicken I’ve ever. In a world that seems to be getting smaller by the minute, this memoir, with its wide global reach, is more timely than ever.
The Other Red Meat
Having Ted Nugent over for meatballs? Try substituting reindeer meat for the pork; Scandinavians and rural Alaskans have been doing it for centuries. Reindeer is comparable in flavor and texture to red deer venison and, like all venison, it’s better for you, too: Protein levels are higher and fat content is lower than in other red meats. It also makes an interesting conversation piece. Especially important when you can’t stand to hear one more verse of “Cat Scratch Fever.” (exoticmeatsales.com) —Chris Dudley
- Selected recipes: (registration required)
- Finnish meatballs with Allspice, Sour Cream, and Lingonberries
- Lingonberry or Cranberry Jam
- Pastitsio (Web-exclusive)
- Fried Chicken (Web-exclusive)