This winter, we published Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan, the ultimate bible of plant-based eating by the renowned vegan cook. We spoke to her about what lead her from her long-held vegetarian diet to going fully vegan.
One of my earliest memories is of watching my mother preparing herrings for supper and realising that they were dead. I asked her whether they had been killed specially for us to eat, and I can still remember the shock that ran through me when she replied that they had. As it happened, she and my father were practically vegetarian; they had given up red meat some time ago, but still ate fish and chicken occasionally. I think my outburst that night hastened their transition to being complete vegetarian, which wasn’t particularly easy in those days (the early 1950s). My younger sister and I were the only vegetarians at our primary school; vegetarian lunches could not be provided, and our wholemeal salad sandwiches, carrot sticks and salad leaves, nuts and raisins, and bottles of fresh juice were objects of stunned amazement to the rest of the school. It was difficult at first, but we got used to it, and I really admire my mother for being a pioneer of healthy and compassionate eating.
I followed her lead and remember sending to the Vegan Society for information and my sister and I trying to make vegan milk from whole soya beans in our little kitchen at home when I was about 12 years old. It involved soaking, boiling and sieving (no liquidizers or food processors then), and I think we used every saucepan available. My sister who was tackling the mountains of washing up I had created, remembers to this day how, with the kitchen piled high with used bowls, sieves, saucepans, jugs, and every other piece of equipment you can imagine, I said brightly ‘now let’s try making vegan butter…’
Being vegan – even, let’s face it, being vegetarian – was so difficult in those days. But the desire never left me. I was ‘practically vegan’, giving up eggs and dairy produce; and then reverting back to being vegetarian, for a long time. Over the years however my vegan times became longer and longer; I wrote two vegan cookbooks, The Green Age Diet, and Vegan Feasts, and included vegan variations and alternatives in my vegetarian cookbooks. I have been wanting to write a more comprehensive vegan cook book for some time, so I was thrilled when Nourish approached me with the possibility of writing this book: Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan. It’s the result of years of vegetarian/vegan cookery writing which started in response to the many requests I had for the recipes for the dishes that I cooked up for the visitors to the retreat centre where I worked from the age of 16.
Writing this book has been such a joy; the enthusiasm everyone has expressed for knowing more about the vegan diet and way of life; and for trying the food; the challenge of ‘veganizing’ some of my most popular vegetarian recipes from the past, and of creating new and original recipes that are vegan in their own right. I have loved seeing the mixture of pleasure and amazement on the faces of those who have tasted my inventions. And I have been so grateful as well to those dear friends and family who have been kind enough to share their own favourite recipes and inventions with me for this book: in particular, my three daughters, who have travelled the vegan journey with me, and given me for this book some wonderful recipes that they have created.
Although I was vegetarian from birth, it was some years before I became completely vegan. During that time, public awareness of the effect of our food choices upon the planet, wildlife, the rain forests and indeed our own health have become more and more evident. I truly love making, eating (and writing about!) vegan food, but it also gives me great satisfaction to know that in doing so I can, and I am, helping to protect the wildlife, the animals, and the whole ecology of this beautiful planet. As Joseph Poore at the University of Oxford, said: ‘a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gasses, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.’ The foods we choose to cook and eat truly can change the world.
Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan is available now, online and in store. Find out more by clicking here.