Rose Elliot MBE, and patron of the Vegetarian Society, is one of Britain’s most well-known vegetarian cookery writers. She has written over 60 vegetarian and vegan books, and has sold over 3 million worldwide. Our Chief Executive, Lynne Elliot, managed to speak to Rose ahead of the release of her latest cookbook, Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan…
Lynne Elliot: It’s great to speak to you today, Rose. We know from when you’ve been at Vegetarian Society events, you are always very kind to people who come up to you and treat you as if you are their best friend. We all think we know you because we have spent many years having you in our kitchens cooking along with you.
Rose Elliot: Oh, that’s lovely. It is very, very, nice being a cookery writer because that is actually what happens. One is in a person’s home and they do feel like friends when I meet people at my demonstrations or book signings.
LE: I think that a lot of our members have felt that too and I have to say we’ve been inundated with questions for you. But one of the things we want to talk to you about first is your new book, called ‘Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan’ and it’s wonderful, it is an amazing book.
RE: Thank you very much indeed for saying that. I would like to say in no way do I feel apart from vegetarians. I still call myself a vegetarian sometimes. I do feel we are all part of the same movement. I really, truly feel that.
LE: I think that’s true and one of the things that you say in your introduction to the book is that a lot of vegetarians go on a journey and just eat more and more vegan food and suddenly one day find that they are hardly eating eggs or dairy and that is kind of what happened to you, I think?
RE: That is absolutely what happened to me. It took quite a long time. I was a vegetarian for a long time before I really became vegan, but gradually, like you say I let go of cheese and eggs. Eggs were easy, I never really liked eggs to be honest. It was just a natural process of evolution, really.
LE: I know that you also reference in your book the current concern for a lot of people about climate change and the environment. There has been a lot of research, as you point out, that one of the single biggest things people can do to help combat climate change is to look at their diet.
RE: Absolutely. I mean it is so clear the link between the diet and what’s happening to the planet. We can be healthy and active members of the world community if we take care of ourselves and vegetarian or vegan food is a very powerful way to do that.
LE: I think that’s true. One of the reasons you are a personal hero for me is because you have helped and supported and encouraged and given people the tools, hundreds of people, to go vegetarian and stay vegetarian. You were the first person whose recipes I followed and I know that I am one of your typical fans. So I tell a story that lots of people tell, but you have kept us going over the years, kept us healthy and kept us cooking and eating and kept us enthusiastic about what we are doing and that has been so important.
RE: That is such a lovely thing to say. It does make me feel so happy that I could do that and I have to say that the people who bought my book and cooked my recipes were all part of it, because if people hadn’t done that it wouldn’t have happened, so I think it is a thing we have been doing together.
LE: I think your new book is a perfect example of something that is so useful and helpful for a new generation probably of vegetarians and vegans and you have pulled everything together in one place, which is absolutely brilliant. There is some nutritional advice and information in there, there’s lots of recipes, there’s information about what to keep in your store cupboard and it is all very down to earth and practical and easy to understand and follow.
RE: Thank you. That is exactly what I hoped it would be. I am actually very practical and I like things simple and straightforward, so if I can do them anyone else can do them. I am very much aware too that we are all very rushed, we have got very little time and so the information is there, the recipes are easy to follow and don’t take too long to make and so on. I am glad that comes across in the book.
LE: I feel like you have been doing that for your whole life and one of the things that I wonder is how has that changed over your career? You have been publishing books since the sixties.
RE: Yes I have. 1967 – my first book came out. I was 22 years old and I had had my second baby.
LE: And I think then you were one of the few vegetarian cookery writers. In those days there was no social media, no websites, no internet…
RE: I sent out four copies of the book for review. I think I sent one to The Times and one to Ideal Home magazine. Might have been one to Woman’s Hour and one other, a local paper lady and they all responded, which is very rare. I was doing all the publishing myself, but somehow we were reaching the people and the people were responding. I had bookshops ringing us up from all over the country with orders. We had 4,000 in the first printing, then we had to order another re-print immediately. It was an incredibly exciting and surprising time for me. It was extraordinary.
LE: I guess that gave you your career. Perhaps you hadn’t imagined that and you thought you would spend your time doing something else.
RE: It definitely did give me my career, yes. I was going to work in the organisation called The White Eagle Lodge, which my grandparents had started, which is basically a spiritual organisation teaching meditation. It wasn’t cookery based, but I started the cooking for the people who came on retreat as part of the White Eagle Lodge. They would come for a week’s retreat and we would do them vegetarian food and I took over the cooking before I was 16. People liked food and they wanted the recipes, so I collected them. I thought if I could just put those recipes together, maybe make a book!
LE: Wow! You started really young and the years have passed and you are still going strong. What motivates you now to keep going, because presumably you could sit back and retire now and just enjoy the grandchildren…
RE: I love food and I love cooking. I am very inventive and it is just something I really enjoy.
LE: Do you think that you will ever retire and stop doing cookbooks?
RE: The thing is, ideas keep on coming to me. I am always inventing things and having ideas, so if I had an idea that was feasible for a book, I might write another one. I am open to possibilities and inspiration.
LE: I think you are the sort of person that will carry on being creative and being inspired, so I am hopeful that there will be more books and that won’t be the last one.
RE: I think that probably will be the case. I do really love every process of writing a book from the initial idea, then making the food, trying it, hearing what people think about it. I love it. So I hope that will be the case.
LE: And I hope it will be, too. One of the questions a supporter wanted us to ask you is: ‘What is your favourite vegan meal?’
RE: There’s one in this book that I particularly like in the main courses section and that’s an en croute, a nut roast with a lovely puff pastry coating around it in a lattice. It is a really lovely centrepiece for a meal.
LE: It’s making me feel hungry! Where do you get your recipe ideas from?
RE: That is a very good question and I have been asked it many times. I wanted to be an artist when I was at school. I love colour, I love shapes. I often get a picture of something in my head and then that sort of builds into a dish.
LE: That is so interesting. The visual side of it is very stimulating.
RE: It is very stimulating and really important to me. I don’t like very fussy decoration, but I love making things look beautiful.
LE: I think that shows in the book, the photographs are wonderful. This next question should be a fairly easy one to answer because I know there is a section about this in the book. What’s your favourite vegan recipe for a roast dinner that isn’t a nut roast?
RE: I think a sweet potato gratin is a delicious centrepiece. There’s one [in the book] that is actually partly a nut roast, but it is called a celeriac terrine with red pepper sauce.
LE: I think the celeriac terrine looks amazing and one of the reasons I think it is a bit of a talking point is because the texture is really interesting and the ingredients aren’t what you would expect to put together. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming vegetarian or vegan?
RE: I think it is really important to have good quality vegetables, or plenty of them, and then have some of the pulses, the beans and lentils and some wholegrains as well. It is trying to make sure that it is a range of wholefood ingredients, plenty of sources of protein, always have protein in. People worry a lot about protein but there is a lot of protein which you gather up through the vegetables you have and as I say the beans and all the sort of extras in the diet. But I would just say try to go for things as natural as possible, like nuts and pulses, because you haven’t got lots of additives in and they have got lovely protein in these. It really isn’t too difficult.
LE: Finally, what vegetarian and vegan ingredients would you recommend people have in their kitchens?
RE: My kitchen is absolutely packed with spices and herbs. In the book there is a section on store cupboards and things that are useful to have in. I would say go for the beans, the pulses, a selection of rice and nuts and other grains. It is not really complicated actually.
LE: Thank you, Rose. It has been lovely talking to you. I think it is really clear that you are still so passionate about cooking and sharing recipes and that comes through in everything you do, so thank you so much for talking to us today.
RE: Thank you so much, Lynne. It has been a real pleasure to talk to you.
How would you like to win a copy of ‘Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan’? Well, we have three copies to give away! If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning, go to www.vegsoc.org/rosecompletevegan and answer this question: In what year was Rose’s first book released? Full terms and conditions available at www.vegsoc.org/bookcompterms.