Born in Italy, Anna Francese Gass came to the United States as a young child and grew up eating her mother’s Italian cooking. But when this professional cook realized she did not know how to make her family’s beloved meatballs—a recipe that existed only in her mother’s memory—Anna embarked on a project to record and preserve her mother’s recipes for generations to come.
In addition to her recipes, Anna’s mother shared stories from her life in Italy that her daughter had never heard before, fascinating tales that whetted Anna’s appetite to learn more. So, Anna began reaching out to her friends whose mothers were also immigrants, and soon she was cooking with dozens of women who were eager to share their unique memories and the foods of their homelands.
In Heirloom Kitchen, Anna brings together the stories and dishes of forty strong, exceptional women, all immigrants to the United States, whose heirloom recipes have helped shape the landscape of American food. Organized by region, the 100 tantalizing recipes include:
Magda’s Pork Adobo from the Phillippines
Shari’s Fesenjoon, a walnut and pomegranate stew, from Iran
Tina’s dumplings from Northern China
Anna’s mother’s meatballs from Southern Italy
In addition to the dishes, these women share their recollections of coming to America—stories of hardship and happiness—that illuminate the power of food, and how cooking became a comfort and a respite in a new land for these women, as well as a tether to their native cultural identities.
Accented with 175 photographs, including food shots, old family photographs, and ephemera of the cooks’ first years in America—such as Soon’s recipe book pristinely handwritten in Korean or the measuring cup Anke tucked into her suitcase before leaving Germany—Heirloom Kitchen is a testament to female empowerment and strength, perseverance, diversity, and inclusivity. It is a warm and inspiring reminder that the story of immigrant food is, at its core, a story of America.