“Why are there so many food memoirs about rediscovering your father’s native cuisine?” my friend asked me. I had a stack of publishing catalogs on my kitchen table, and he was flipping through them as I made dinner.
“Because we grew up in a world where the mother cooks. You are raised on your mother’s cuisine, for good or bad. The cooking from your father’s native country gets to remain romantic.”
But, of course, these memoirs only work if your father comes from some delicious, romantic country, like Spain. Or Greece. “I would write a memoir about my family’s native cuisine,” I told him. I was busy trying to use up everything in my refrigerator before a trip. Anything that might rot got thrown together in a heated pan with olive oil, then tossed with pasta and cheese and baked. “But my father’s people are from East Kansas. No one wants my memoir about his bean loaf or peanut butter radish sandwiches.”
It was no surprise, then, to read the author bio for Tessa Kiros in her new cookbook, “Food from Many Greek Kitchens”: “Kiros was born in London to a Finnish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father.” The resulting cookbook is less a straightforward collection of recipes than transcription of myth, tradition and family memories, suffused with romance and nostalgia.
Here’s the thing about romance, though: it is not the most organized emotional state. Neither is the layout of this book. While it’s beautifully put together — the color palette is based on the colors of the ocean and that glorious Greek blue, and the photography is cheerful and casual — I would have traded in about half of the beauty for a recognizable organizing principle. When I made a dinner from the book, the counterintuitiveness of it all made me constantly lose my place. Looking for the cake recipe? Oh, that is the bookmark in the first section. Salad number one is in a completely different section as salad number two… and so on.
But the food is what the best family memories are based on: enough to feed a crowd, easy to throw together, and simply satisfying. The cabbage slaw was vinegary and delicious. The olive bread was low maintenance, but the fact that I made bread by hand led everyone to think I was some sort of genius. And the honey cake, served with dried figs that had been boiled in brandy and sugar, was a special little ending.
It may be lucky for Kiros’ writing career that it was her father who was Greek, not her Finnish mother. (Although frankly, with the rest of her author bio sees her family moving from London to South Africa, I’m very curious what kind of conglomeration ended up on her dining room table every night.) But one bite of the honey cake recipe, and you’ll see she’s not the only one who benefits.
|Melopita Honey Cake
You will need a round ceramic dish of about 25 cm (10 inches). I love this served with figs, either fresh, or roasted with a little honey and sesame seeds. I have added a splash of brandy to the simple but lovely ingredients here.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C, gas 4). Butter and flour a 10 inch (25 cm) ovenproof round ceramic dish. Put the eggs and sugar into a bowl and beat using electric beaters until voluminous, creamy and thick. Beat in the flour. Add the honey, lemon juice and brandy, and tip in the mizithra. Whisk well until it’s thick, creamy and ribbony. Scrape into the baking dish and rock it to distribute evenly. Bake until a bit golden, about 30 minutes. Scatter the extra sugar and sieve the cinnamon over. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate as it is also good cold.