It’s officially the first day of summer and sun is streaming through the windows of the pretty Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath where myself and 10 other students are gathered to learn from ‘the Queen of Vegetarianism’ Rose Elliot.
Rose is a legend in the non-meat eating world. She published her first book Simply Delicious in 1967 and has written 60 books and sold 3 and a half million copies since then.
There is something really quite life-enhancing about Rose Elliot in the flesh – she is upbeat, warm and has that absolute conviction in her way of living. No wonder since she renounced meat at the tender age of 5.
She says: “One evening when I was very tiny I was watching my mother preparing herrings for supper and I realised in a flash that the fishes were dead and we were going to eat them. I questioned my mother closely about it and I can still remember the shock, like a sword going through me, when she told me they had been killed…The desire not to kill is still my main motivating force for being vegetarian.’
Ant Jones, Cliqq Photography, © Cook Vegetarian Magazine
Rose’s upbringing was unusual: her grandmother was a spiritualist and her mother an astrologer and after Rose’s epiphanous moment, the whole family committed to vegetarianism. These were the days, Rose says, when you could only buy olive oil from the chemist (for ear infections), there were no red peppers, courgettes or aubergines, avocados were bullet-hard and no one knew what to do with them.
The vegetarian movement has come a long way since then, in no small part thanks to Rose who has re-educated in the millions with her much-loved tomes like the Complete Vegetarian and the Bean Book.
Today’s course is held at the Vegetarian Cookery School which was founded by Rachel Demuth of the famous vegetarian restaurant Demuths in Bath. The majority of students are committed vegetarians and die-hard Rose Elliot fans who have come to meet their heroine.
I love the mix of people on a course – I am next to David, a meat-eating pilot and the only male present, next to him is Aradhana, a radiantly healthy and evangelical raw food blogger.
On the menu today are spicy Thai bean cakes with roasted asparagus, spinach and feta filo parcels, salade nicoise (minus the tuna and anchovies), asparagus risotto, stuffed fennel, chocolate brownies and mango compote.
The setting is perfect – a light and airy contemporary kitchen with stunning views of the city. Rose demonstrates a course and then we group into threes to chop, taste and swap life histories.
Rose’makes an inspiring tutor – along with her endless cooking advice, she throws out amusing snippets about family life and talks of her ambition to improve vegetarian cooking in schools.
'There is still so much to be done,' she says. 'But change takes time, people have to be ready.'
Her food combines the freshest ingredients with punchy flavours – baked fennel is stuffed with breadcrumbs, orange rind, olives and thyme, salade nicoise is revved up with cayenne pepper, capers, parsley and Tabasco.
Our first course – spicy Thai bean cakes which we chase with delicious Orchard Pig apple juice are so mindblowingly good it makes you wonder why you bothered with the crab version.
Over lunch - overflowing plates of risotto, baked fennel and the spanikopita (filo parcels) - and a glass of organic wine, there is more time to chat to Rose.
She talks of her three son-in-laws two of whom have now converted to vegetarianism and a third who must surely crumble soon in the face of such evangelism.
There are now 4 million vegetarians in the UK compared to just a few thousand when Rose began cookery writing but she is anxious to see further change.
She says: "If the world was vegetarian/vegan, there would be enough resources to feed the whole world, with plenty to spare....What I ask myself is why can’t people see this? It’s not as if vegetarian and vegan food aren’t wonderfully colourful and tasty: it’s just old habits keeping people stuck, and I want to show the world there is another way, and it’s wonderful.'
The Vegetarian Cookery School runs every imaginable kind of cooking course from Indian street food to Andalucian tapas or Lebanese summer mezze - contact here for details. Evening workshops from £45.
Rose Elliot's latest book The 30 Minute Vegetarian is published by Harper Collins on 5 July.