by Roger Zotti
“I love to cook. I love to eat. I love to entertain.” So says Madison’s Diane Gardner, whose latest cookbook is “What’s Cooking New England?” She adds: “This is a book readers can pick up and find great recipes that have been tested. They’re recipes they can make for, say, dinner during the week or for a dinner party.” Actually, Diane’s latest is more than a cookbook. “It’s been called a coffee table book because it has stories and traditions,” she says. “It has fantastic and beautiful photography of food – Chris Devlin Brown of Devlin Photography was the photographer – but also of scenery all over New England.”
For Diane, writing her latest book was “an awesome experience. I traveled around New England meeting people,” she says. “I’ve been to farms and to farmers’ markets. If I saw a roadside stand, I’d stop to talk [with the worker] and learn things.” One thing Diane learned was, she says, “Everybody has a story to tell and something special they’re proud of and love, whether it might be recipes handed down over generations, or an inspiring young chef who might have created his or her own thing.” Her most crucial lesson was this: “Food is the one thing everyone has in common because it brings us all together.”
In her Introduction we learn Diane’s biggest influence was her grandmother. She says, “The book goes back to my granny – Sybil. She taught me to cook. She instilled that passion in me. Every Sunday we had a big dinner, which was in the middle of the day, and that’s how I grew up – I’m from South Carolina – and in the book I bring in some of my family’s southern recipes, which have been passed down over generations. I also bring in friends’ recipes from the south, some of which have been in their families for a long time.” Diane views “What’s Cooking New England?” – which also contains recipes from New England’s six states – as coming full circle.
Her first book was more of a project than “What’s Cooking New England?” because she was at home, her children were in school, and she had tons of time on her hands. “I kicked around ideas and tried to figure out what I could do during the time they were in school,” she says. “Message to moms: I learned there are a million things you can do when your kids are away at school that are fulfilling, fun, and they don’t take away from being a mom.”
“Great recipes and a full stomach and not being able to wait to make the next recipes” are what Diane hopes readers take away from her latest cookbook. “If that happens,” she says, “it would be fantastic!” I’m pretty sure it will because those recipes, healthy and mouth-watering, are hard to pass up.
For more information about Diane, her latest book, and her two previous ones, “What’s Cooking Connecticut Shoreline?” and “What’s Cooking Madison?” (both written with Kim Castaldo), visit whatscookinginnewengland.com.