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Grandmothers are some of the most special people in this world.

Through stories and recipes they are the passers of the family culture and history.

My Grandma Irene is no different. I cannot imagine not having her in my life – spending time at her house growing up, and even now as we frequently meet for our lunch-and-symphony dates together as season ticket holders. The way she says, “I’ve probably told you this story a million times.” And each time I shake my head, “no”, as I hear it again, wanting her to repeat the story so that I can remember every detail.

Even though she was diagnosed a few years ago with celiac disease, and is now gluten free so she can’t eat any of these goodies, she passed along this German Apple Cake recipe (here) that was my German great grandmother’s, has taught us how to bake the cookies of generations of Norwegians before us (as I wrote about here) and shared many other family recipes with me from her treasured, little, beat-up recipe box and faded, food-stain-filled church cookbooks. These have been some of the most memorable moments in my life. Spending time with her.

She is the keeper of family memories. So many of those are tied into the history and recipes of the women who came before us, and thanks to her I feel a strong tie to the women who came before me, and am teaching my children these recipes and telling them her stories. Our family’s stories.

This is why I was so drawn to Patricia Tanumihardja’s 2009 book, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, that was just released to paperback last week. Patricia, a Seattle food writer who contributes articles to Saveur, Sunset, Seattle, and Seattle Metropolitan magazines, grew up in Singapore not knowing her grandmothers, but as an adult felt a very strong pull towards her ancestry.

She was “already writing a lot of stories about the intersection of food, culture and tradition,” so when her publisher suggested this topic, she decided that it was right up her alley.

“I never knew my grandmothers and in some way, this was the perfect project to fill that void in my life. Now I have several surrogate grandmothers!”

Patricia interviewed, cooked with, and listened to the stories of many Asian women in the assembly of this beautiful book chock full of delightful, inspirational stories, eye-catching photographs, and traditional Asian recipes collected from Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Korean households.

“I think it’s important to record traditional family recipes. So many people have told me that their favorite dish made by grandma disappeared once she passed away because nobody thought to learn how to make it. I’m hoping my cookbook will inspire people to start paying attention to their family recipes. Cook together, write recipes down, take photos of the dishes, record oral histories with grandma and keep the culinary flame alive in your family.”

For a little taste of what Patricia will share with you in her book, here is one recipe perfect for those last few summer days we have left. (One that even my Grandma Irene can enjoy because it is gluten free!) 🙂

For more wonderful recipes, to see Patricia’s book signing schedule (she’ll be at the Book Larder in Seattle next month!), or to purchase The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook go visit Patricia’s blog.

Photo Credit: Lara Ferroni


“As a little girl, this was one of my favorite desserts. It’s light and refreshing and oh-so easy to make.” – Patricia Tanumihardja

Sweet Melon and Tapioca Pearls in Coconut Milk

Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 8 servings

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) dried small tapioca pearls, rinsed
  • 3 cups (half a 5-pound melon) honeydew melon or cantaloupe scooped into balls
  • 13-1/2 ounce can (1-1/2 cups) coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup Pandan Syrup*
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups ice cubes

In a large saucepan, bring the water to boil over high heat. Stir in the tapioca pearls and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the pearls turn clear with the barest speck of white in the middle, 15 to 20 minutes. Pour the tapioca into a sieve and rinse with cold running water to wash away the extra starch produced during boiling and to separate the individual pearls.

In a large punch bowl, combine the tapioca, melon, coconut milk, syrup, salt, and ice cubes. Stir to mix well. Ladle into individual bowls and serve immediately.

*Pandan Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 pandan leaves, trimmed and tied into separate knots

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, water, and pandan leaves. Be sure to scrape each pandan leaf with the tines of a fork to release the fragrance and then tie into a knot (so the fibers don’t don’t come loose) before throwing into the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir continuously until the sugar dissolves, leaving behind a crystal-clear syrup, 8 to 10 minutes.

Let the syrup cool completely. Fish out the leaves and use the syrup in desserts such as this one or transfer to a bottle, cover and refrigerate indefinitely for future use.