A look at island cooking

A Missouri woman honors her mother and her homeland with a cookbook called ‘Corfu Cooking.’
Wednesday, January 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Amidst a cluttered kitchen full of knickknacks and dishes bustles Alice Padova Anderson, searching in closets, the refrigerator and even the bathroom to gather her delicious desserts.

“I keep them hidden so the cats don’t get them,” the Columbia woman explains. Her cats, Athena and Aristotle, are not far behind as Anderson sets her collection of cakes and pastries on the table.

Anderson typically makes one dessert a day and invites friends over to try her creations.

“Every Christmas, I bake 10 things and have my friends come and taste,” she said.

These culinary delights, as well as many more, are included in her recently published cookbook, “Corfu Cooking.”

Anderson was born on Corfu, Greece, an island between the mainland and Italy. Corfu has its own approach to Greek cuisine, making this a truly unique cookbook. “It is not an all-Greek cookbook,” she said. “These recipes come from the Ionian islands off of the mainland of Greece, which were under the Venetian, English and French occupation, so the recipes are a little bit different from the mainland.”

The cookbook is full of “basic recipes from Greece. Eighty percent of the recipes in this book are my mother’s,” Anderson said. “This cookbook is a tribute to my mother, who inspired me to explore the world of cooking.

“My mother was not very creative. She cooked how she learned. I never do the same recipe twice. I follow them, but I try it different ways.”

“My mother had 4 notebooks of her recipes,” Anderson said. “They were not categorized, she just wrote. They are in French and English. When I came to the U.S., she made a book of 50 recipes for me.”

To write the cookbook, Anderson translated the recipes from Greek to English and converted them to American measurements and tastes. “Most of the recipes call for a range of oil because Americans don’t use oil as much,” she said.

“The recipes are simple and to the point,” Anderson said. “On Corfu, we had a garden, so a lot of the recipes call for whole oranges, lemons or mandarins, and almonds and nuts.”

Anderson also included some traditional mainland recipes, including egg lemon soup, stuffed eggplant and mixed vegetable casserole. Dishes such as Bourtheto, which is stewed fish with onions, Pasta Kolopimpiri, a pasta soup with tomato sauce, and baked sardines are unique to Corfu.

“Corfu Cooking” includes recipes used by families of different classes, cities and villages on Corfu.

“Some recipes are considered villager recipes,” Anderson said. “The villagers typically used products from their farms, which is why there are a number a vegetarian recipes, such as Tsigareli.”

There are several other vegetarian dishes in this cookbook, including, “a number of eggplant recipes,” Anderson said. “I get fresh eggplant from the farmers’ market. One day, a man asked me, ‘How do you cook eggplant?’ and I said ‘My god. There are ways and ways to cook eggplant.’ Eggplant absorbs oil and tomato sauce. It is wonderful, almost like a meat.”

Some of the recipes do include meat. “The chicken recipes are very good; each is different,” Anderson said. “My favorite is chicken with peppers and black olives.”

Most of the spices used in the recipes in the cookbook can be found at local grocery stores, such as cinnamon, cloves and peppers, but sometimes Anderson has to go to Campus Eastern Foods to buy the more obscure ones.

Anderson returns to Corfu three times a year to visit and typically brings back spices such as oregano, lemon and orange zest to use in her cooking.

“I get them from Greece because they are fresh and they smell,” she said.

“My friends love my Moussaka (eggplant casserole),” Anderson said. “People ask for it; they want it. I have Moussaka power. My friends exchange vegetables from their garden for Moussaka.”

Desserts and cakes are some of Anderson’s specialties. The cakes in the cookbook are “named after the woman who made them,” she said. “When celebrating their Name Day, part of a Greek Orthodox tradition, the women would always serve the same cake. The fact that these women felt comfortable sharing the recipe for that cake implied special relations between my mother and them.”

When Anderson is not cooking, she is gardening or teaching folk dancing and ballroom dancing.

“Corfu Cooking” is sold at Clovers, Tiger Tales and the MU Bookstore.

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