A woman with a black apron is stirring tomatoes into a pan of vegetables in Bursa, Turkey. Visually impaired, she is being helped by an assistant, who is a spouse of a Turkish Rotary member.
Elsewhere in the kitchen, other cooks and Rotary spouses are preparing meatballs, slicing and peeling eggplants, and measuring out cookie dough. At a table in an adjacent dining area, a man is reading a recipe from a Braille cookbook.
The cookbook, “Good Smells From the Kitchen,” has enabled many members of the Library of Turkey for the Visually Disabled to enter the kitchen with new confidence.
“For the first time I made lentil meatballs,” says Sϋheyla Karayalçin, a book recipient. “I had never done it before. I let others taste it, it was nice. I am very excited to have a special recipe book for us [people with visual impairments].”
The activity is part of a project by Rotary members in western Turkey, who have partnered with the library to produce the country’s first cookbook for the visually impaired, printed in Braille and recorded on audio CD. Several dozen copies of the book have rolled off the library’s presses and have been recorded in the library’s studio, and given free to library members. Additional copies are printed as Rotary members secure funding and line up new sponsors.
Günes Ertaş says fellow Rotary club members came up with the idea after they had helped the library purchase Braille machines and other equipment through Rotary grants. Ertaş’s wife, Fίgen, collected more than 100 recipes.
“We asked for recipes from Rotary spouses living in the areas from Canakkale to Fethiye,” Fίgen says. “We asked them to empathize with persons with visual impairments before sending recipes. There would not be any sentences like ‘add flour until the mixture comes together'; the recipes would be precise. We did not want to have measures in grams. Instead we asked for adjustable measures like tea cups and spoons.”
A committee made up of a food engineer, a dietitian, several recipe contributors, and library users tested each recipe before selecting 100. Bursa chef Omur Akkor cooked each recipe with his eyes closed and made further adjustments.
“I came across an interesting description to dice a carrot in the book,” says Karayalçin. “It says slice like a backgammon dice since not everybody may know what a cube is, but everybody knows the size of a backgammon dice. I usually do not spend much time in the kitchen, but thanks to this book I am more interested in cooking.”
The recipes are divided into categories including soups, salads, starters, vegetables, main dishes, desserts, pastry, and bread. While the cookbooks were coming off the library’s printers, Rotary spouses recorded the recipes for the audio version in a recording studio.
Four cooking courses were held in Izmir and Bursa to give library members a chance to practice the recipes. They were each given a free copy of the book and cooking utensils. Another course was organized by Rotary spouses in Balikeshir in December for children with visual impairments and their mothers.
The cookbook won first place among all Turkish entries in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in the categories of Best Innovative Cookbook and Best Charity Cookbook. It now advances to the world finals in Bejing. Günes says he and his wife plan to attend the award ceremony in May.
The project has also been featured on Turkish television and was selected by the Sabanci Foundation as one of its 100 changemaker projects. Günes says Rotary members continue to seek new sponsors to print additional copies of the cookbook, which costs $150. The name of sponsors are included on an inside page.
“This book is the first of its kind in Turkey,” Günes says. “That’s what makes this project special. That and a lot of people were involved. It shows what can be done in Rotary through collaboration.”