Opening the archives: Evelyn Rose’s memories
The JC’s former food editor still wields huge influence. Now her archive is at the Guildhall Library
THERE’S A reason most of us have an Evelyn Rose cookery book — apart from the excellence of her recipes. The doyenne of Jewish cooking, who died aged 77 in 2003, worked incredibly hard. During her working life she generated shelves and shelves of materials: JC columns; notes for television and radio appearances; articles for other publications; notes of research trips, drafts of her 14 books and more notes for her roles for other food institutions.
“Her work filled two entire walls of wall-to- ceiling shelves in her office” says her daughter, Judi Rose, herself a food writer. Twenty cardboard boxes full of these papers were donated by Judi and her brothers David Rose and Alan Rose, to London’s Guildhall Library after their family home in Manchester was sold in October 2016. (Their father, Myer, had passed away in February 2014.)
The collection (which took several months to catalogue) launches next week, with a reception catered by Panzer’s. “Their chef will be cooking some of her recipes including her luscious lemon cake, baba ghanoush and frittata” says Judi.
I met principal librarian Peter Ross for a sneak preview at the library, which houses the largest collection of food, drink and cookery books in the UK. It’s the go-to resource for anyone researching food and drink history and Rose’s work rightly sits alongside English foodie royalty such as Elizabeth David.
Descending into the vaults of the building, the fusty smell of old books whisked me straight back to my university research days. Rose’s books and papers sit in illustrious company. The library (open for public reference and funded by the City of London Corporation) is home to more than 200,000 books dating from the 15th century. It includes some of the finest collections of historical resources in the country, covering social and local history and including material on the history of agriculture, retailing, brewing, domestic science.
Ross was happy to welcome the Evelyn Rose collection. “I already knew about Evelyn Rose — she was famous in the cookery world. I thought she would complement Elizabeth David’s collection, which we also house here. We concentrate on British food so British Jewish food worked well for us”.
What struck me on seeing the neatly stacked shelves of cardboard files and folders bearing her name, was the sheer scale of what she had produced. You clearly don’t get to be a doyenne without a bit of hard graft.
She kept notes on everything. Various research trips abroad to countries including America, Belgium, China, Crete, Cyprus, Thailand and Switzerland contained a typed up itinerary along with each note, pamphlet or menu from that trip, numbered and indexed. Her level of organisation puts me to shame!
Her JC columns and recipes are there in their entirety.
“She never missed a single one in 50 years” says Judi. I picked up a box and found her typed list of JC food columns for 1963. She clearly followed the seasons, producing asparagus recipes in May, strawberries in June and so on.
There was even a cauliflower salad — and we thought the current cruciferous craze was invented recently by Israeli chefs. Perhaps they are not as innovative as we think.
Rose also managed to create kosher dishes using flavours from her travels, whilst keeping traditionalists happy with just enough Ashkenazi influence.
It’s an insight into Jewish kitchens of the era. On September 6 1963 she shared how to make challah. The rest of that month was all about the chagim: marble cake; wine cake and quick kichels for September 13; for September 20 — yom tov weekend cooking, with recipes for carrot tsimmes, lokshen pudding and braised bola. The last issue of the month was entitled ‘Fasting Wisely and Well’ — still a current obsession — alongside recipes for crunchy apple crisp and meat kreplach.
It’s also interesting to see how much Rose did outside the Jewish community, taking Jewish food into the mainstream. Before she joined the JC, she had presented a television programme about how to make Jewish food. She was a regular on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and wrote for Decanter, the wine magazine.
She was the first woman president of the Meat and Livestock Commission and worked for other industry bodies like the Butter Information Council. She fronted a campaign for Ambrosia creamed rice pudding. “She was not above using her children as props — Alan and David were seen on television tucking into their bowls of rice pudding,” laughs Judi.
Evelyn had various corporate clients for whom she wrote recipes and demonstrated products. During the 1970s she demonstrated Cadbury’s Smash (dried instant mash) and wrote herself a note — attached to a recipe leaflet for Smash — reminding herself when demonstrating to always ‘Refer to Cadbury’s Smash’ and “Don’t say ‘add butter to improve the flavour’”.
“She was a real entrepreneur. In the days when women were staying at home, she was constantly generating new business” says Judi.
So detailed are the notes that I feel almost voyeuristic to be leafing through her meticulously typed papers.
The collection will serve to preserve our foodie heritage — what we were eating and the way we were celebrating festivals. It evidences why Evelyn Rose won her title as our grand balaboosta but also how far she took the Jewish menu — lightening stodgy dishes of the Ashkenazi menu and dotting them with the colour and flavours of warmer climes.
In doing this, she fore-shadowed the full-on Sephardi/Ashkenazi mash up that we now see on plates around the world. As the JC’s current Food Editor, I’m proud to be her successor.
Evelyn Rose at home and at work in her kitchen