Me and my cookbooks - Dianne Ross

Dianne Ross

We're pleased to present another installment of the "Me and my cookbooks" series. Many EYB members have told us they enjoy meeting members and special guests through this feature. We'd love to introduce more people, so if you'd like to be featured, just email us at info@eatyourbooks.com.

 


 

Dianne Ross has a cookbook collection that many EYB me­­mbers will envy: nearly 1,000 cookbooks gathered over 50 years, 744 of which are on her EYB Bookshelf. Most of the cookbooks are kept in her home in southern Ontario, but some of the collection has migrated to her vacation cottage. In her home kitchen, an entire wall covered with bookshelves from floor to ceiling houses the most frequently used cookbooks. Dianne and her husband were both English teachers, so it comes as no surprise that their home and cottage contain a multitude of bookshelves, with cookbooks comprising only part of their extensive library.

Dianne recalls her first cookbook, a Canadian tome titled Fare Exchange, published in the 1960s. Fare Exchange was based on the Canadian melting pot, featuring recipes from Canadian cooks that highlighted recipes from their family's heritage, including Ukrainian, Polish, and Italian cuisines among others.

That book, like most cookbooks of the era, didn't have any photographs. Dianne credits Martha Stewart for popularizing photographs in cookbooks, especially her early book on entertaining that featured rich, stunning photos. While describing her early days of cooking, Dianne recalls that in those days "one did not walk into a grocery store and buy fresh herbs." She relied on her ever-growing cookbook collection to learn about herbs and spices and grew the herbs that she couldn't get from the store.

When Dianne really started getting serious about cooking, she turned first to Julia Child's cookbooks for instruction. She learned about different cuisines from authors like Fuchsia Dunlop, Nina Simonds, Madhur Jaffrey, Paula Wolfert, Lee Bailey, Julie Sahni, and Nathalie Dupree. Dianne recalls with wry amusement that her husband often complained that he never got the same dish twice.

Dianne has read her most of her cookbooks cover to cover, highlighting the recipe in the index when she made a dish that she and her family liked, and penciling in any changes she made to a recipe. Like most EYB Members, Dianne utilizes the EYB search engine to find recipes for specific ingredients or types of cuisine from her large collection.

Unlike most Members, however, Dianne uses a audio screen reader to allow her to perform searches and retrieve the results. That's because seven years ago, a medical condition caused her to completely lose her sight overnight. Although it was a tremendous obstacle, being blind hasn't dampened Dianne's enthusiasm for cooking or collecting cookbooks, although it has changed how the cooking is done in her household.

During most of her 54-year marriage, Dianne did all of the cooking, but when she lost her sight, the cooking duties fell to her husband Alan. Like most experienced cooks, Dianne had developed her own sense of taste and had learned many tricks and shortcuts through years of experience, all of which she relayed to her husband when he began cooking. Alan would read the recipe to her, and she would tell him how it needed to be tweaked, or why he should use a different technique than the one described in the recipe. Under Dianne's tutelage, Alan has learned "to taste a recipe in his head," and has transformed from appreciative diner to competent cook. While he may do the cooking, Dianne retains the title of "Executive Chef," planning all of the meals.

Dianne still collects cookbooks even though she can no longer see the sumptuous photographs. She relies on Alan to describe the photos, and she forms a mental image through his description. Recent cookbooks that Dianne has enjoyed include Heritage by Sean Brock and Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. When she gets a new cookbook, Dianne uses Eat Your Books to scan through it without having to rely on someone reading it to her. The screen reader she uses, called JAWS (Job Access With Speech), provides speech output for popular computer applications. Dianne uses the arrow keys to navigate through the page. Dianne loves that she can use Eat Your Books to plan meals and get ingredient lists to compile a shopping list for her husband.

Although she's still using her cookbooks on a daily basis, Dianne has long-term plans for her collection. She is currently teaching her grandson (age 20) and granddaughter (age 25) how to cook, and she hopes that one day they will cherish the cookbooks as much as she does. In the meantime, Dianne and Alan continue to expand the collection, learning new recipes and updating older ones with the skills acquired over 50 years of cooking.

9 Comments

  • Analyze  on  4/21/2015 at 8:31 PM

    Wow, what an inspiring story, and I love this cookbook series!!!

  • Rinshin  on  4/21/2015 at 10:33 PM

    What a wonderful story. Once a cook, always a cook. Thank you Dianne for sharing your experience and story.

  • KarinaFrancis  on  4/21/2015 at 10:50 PM

    What an inspiring story. Goes to show that a love of cooking will overcome many obstacles.

  • cherrylovesmilo  on  4/22/2015 at 12:47 AM

    Thank you for the great story! Fuchsia Dunlop and Julie Sahni have taught me so much as well. I was inspired by Fuchsia to create an Chinese dinner for my family on Easter day, even though we usually eat traditional American and European food on that day. I think the tradition may change! So glad that Dianne has her grandchildren to share her love of cooking with.

  • Radish  on  4/22/2015 at 6:20 AM

    Thanks for the story. I imagine that cookbooks are quite a bit of her recreation now. I have also been married for 54 years and I read cookbooks more than ever.

  • adelina  on  4/23/2015 at 1:31 AM

    I love her! Thanks for this story!

  • Breadcrumbs  on  4/24/2015 at 6:34 PM

    Dianne, thank-you for sharing your beautiful cookbook collection and inspiring story with us. It's a privilege to have you in our community. Your grandchildren are so fortunate to have the benefit of your passion to encourage them to cook. Cheers to you from a fellow Ontarian.

  • Foodycat  on  4/26/2015 at 4:52 AM

    I recognise those Time Life books on her shelf! She and Alan sound like a great team.

  • Lindsay  on  4/30/2015 at 8:29 AM

    Courage comes in many forms - really nice story!

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