Evelyn Rose

Consummate Jewish cookery columnist
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The Independent Online

Evelyn Gita Blain, cookery writer: born Manchester, 2 December 1925; MBE 1989; married 1948 Myer Rose (two sons, one daughter); died Manchester 18 May 2003.

For 40 years Evelyn Rose wrote the cookery column for The Jewish Chronicle, the oldest surviving (162 years) Jewish newspaper and the fourth oldest weekly paper in Britain. She was one of the personalities most closely associated with the 30,000-circulation paper, changing her own style and recipes as her readers' needs altered. Though over the years her recipes changed from post-rationing stodgy to the lighter food everyone now eats, and from the Ashkenazi dishes of her own background to the Sephardi dishes regarded as exotic by most British Jews, they were all and always kosher.

Rose provided a service for her readers, which included a small minority of kashrut-observant Jews (I'd guess there are 10,000 or fewer kosher-keeping British households today) who needed her recipes to avoid the monotony of a diet based on a cuisine with restricted ingredients, and a small repertoire of dishes from Central and Eastern Europe, augmented by a few British dishes, using sea rather than freshwater fish, for instance, and not forgetting favourites such as apple pie. To them she also gave ideas for variations on the culinary themes dictated by tradition for the various Jewish festivals, in which feast days outnumber fast days by a huge margin.

But the majority of her readers, like the overwhelming preponderance of the 280,000 Jewish population of Britain, were secular Jews, non-observant but culturally attached to an idea of Jewishness in which food plays a major role. Now that many Jewish culinary delicacies are common currency, it is hard to remember what the position was four decades ago.

When Rose wrote her first column for The Jewish Chronicle in 1959, the idea that you could buy pastrami in supermarkets, or that there would one day be shops selling bagels on Britain's high streets would have been startling. Evelyn Rose's columns, and her books, were a good place to start to find recipes for chicken soup, kneidlach (matzo balls), chopped liver, gefilte fish and other stand-bys of Ashkenazi cooking. They did not pretend to the kind of cultural and historical awareness, encyclopaedic breadth and culinary authenticity of Claudia Roden's magnificent The Book of Jewish Food (1996).

Rose's recipes were haimishe, "homely" in the best sense, the sort of substantial everyday fare eaten by people with a strong cultural pull towards a tradition that is hundreds of years old, usually plainly poached or braised chicken or beef, fried fish, noodle and potato dishes, latkes and kugels, and root vegetable mixtures such as tsimmes.

Nowadays there seems to be a single kosher menu for every public occasion, starring poached salmon, with new potatoes in a supporting role. But Rose had many other ways to deal with salmon, and dozens of other suggestions for feeding large groups of people that included some who followed the laws of kashrut. Imagination was the key to this, and Rose had plenty of it, allied to careful reading of the books and journalism of her cookery colleagues and a wide acquaintance among them. Though she herself kept kosher, she did not have the average 1950s kosher housewife's suspicion of new ingredients or prejudice against cooking familiar foods in novel ways.

In one sense, Rose was probably the first professional Jewish cookery writer, at least in Britain, for her predecessor, Florence Greenberg, was married to the Editor of The Jewish Chronicle, and for many years contributed her recipes for nothing, even signing over to the paper the royalties from her books. Rose was a consummate professional, never missing a deadline - not even when she was seriously ill last year - and in her later years she never failed to spot a trend that could be assimilated into her own style. Even into the nouvelle cuisine-crazed mid-1980s, said Rose's editor Jan Shure,

her dishes featured schmaltz [rendered poultry fat], frying and quite a lot of red meat. There seemed little concession to the healthy-food revolution, with its emphasis on low-fat, high-roughage foods, and many of the recipes were for women with three hours to spare to prepare a midweek supper.

Her intimidated editor scarcely dared to propose any change, but within a year of the start of their collaboration Rose had reformed both calorie count and cooking times.

She was a small industry, writing books, running cookery courses, demonstrating, consulting for Rakusens and Nightingale, and at one time or another gave employment to quite a few other people, including her daughter, Judi. The family lived in a comfortable house in Northenden, where they were part of the large Manchester Jewish community. Rose was the first woman commissioner on the Meat and Livestock Commission, worked for the Gas Consumers' Association, and, with her husband, Myer - who was at Evelyn's side virtually every time we met - must have helped raise at least £200,000 for her charities with her book promotions and cookery demonstrations.

Paul Levy

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