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Rose Murray grew up on a farm, and encouraged cooks to use simple, local, fresh ingredients long before the farm-to-table trend ever hit the mainstream.Handout

Rose Murray wrote 11 cookbooks, contributed to about 40 more, and published reliable recipes in many of the country’s top magazines, specializing in comfort food and Canadian flavours.

“Can you buy the ingredients in Moose Jaw?” she would always ask herself when putting together a recipe, according to her husband, Kent Murray.

Ms. Murray believed there is such a thing as a Canadian cuisine, and her book A Taste of Canada: A Culinary Journey (2008), in particular, set out to explore how this country’s land, climate and people shaped its culinary heritage. Her dishes in the book, including phyllo butter tarts, tourtière turnovers and raspberry Nanaimo bars, appealed to cooks nationwide.

“She did grassroots Canadian cooking,” says long-time friend and fellow food writer Monda Rosenberg. “She brought the best of home cooking to a wide audience.”

She knew how to maximize taste in her recipes. “Not everyone gets that when you’re doing a recipe, it's about the flavour, and the major flavours coming through. Many people feel they need to add something trendy to make it pop, but Rose did not take that approach.”

Ms. Murray grew up on a farm, and encouraged cooks to use simple, local, fresh ingredients long before the farm-to-table trend ever hit the mainstream.

“Rose’s personality was all over her recipes,” says Elizabeth Baird, who co-authored a cookbook with Ms. Murray.

“They were reliable recipes. They tasted good. They’re thoughtful. They’re well written. Everything is in the right place,” Ms. Baird says about the life’s work of her friend, who died on July 24 at age 82 of an infection, a complication of dementia.

Ms. Murray won numerous awards, and was inducted into Taste Canada’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

Many of her cookbooks are still in print, including her debut, 1979′s Rose Murray’s Canadian Christmas Cooking: The Classic Guide to Holiday Feasts. (It’s been updated numerous times since, with the addition of more current ingredients and expanding to honour other holidays.)

Her book Canada’s Favourite Recipes, which she wrote with Ms. Baird, won the Taste Canada Award for best general cookbook in 2013. (One report called the book an “instant Canadian classic;” it featured recipes such as Peameal Bacon Roast and Maple Carrot Cake with Maple-Butter Icing.)

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Canada’s Favourite Recipes won the the Taste Canada Award for best general cookbook in 2013.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Murray and her family lived for many years in Cambridge, Ont., and she was a frequent guest on local television, including as resident chef for CTV Kitchener’s noon news show.

She was born Elizabeth Rose Varty on Jan. 21, 1941, and grew up on a farm near Duntroon, Ont., which is south of Collingwood. Her parents, George and Josephine, were full-time farmers, and Rose was second-youngest of six children.

Her job on the farm was to help her mother with the vegetable garden and do the cooking. That included putting together large meals in the fall for the hired wheat-threshing teams.

Rose was the only one in her family to attend university. She studied English at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1962, and soon after took a job teaching at Collingwood Collegiate.

In late 1964, she met Mr. Murray; his aunt also taught at the school, and thought they would make a good match. They got engaged within a month.

“She sparkled,” Mr. Murray recalls. “Once Rose made her mind up, she went and did whatever she wanted to do.”

For instance, she needed to drive herself from the family farm to her teaching job every day, so she purchased a Studebaker Lark, but decided she should also know how to repair it. She took a night school class on car repair.

“She finished at the top of the class,” Mr. Murray says.

When their children, Allen and Anne, came along, Ms. Murray left teaching, plus the family moved to London, Ont., for Mr. Murray’s job as a city planner.

Around this time, one of his close friends was dating Ms. Rosenberg, and Mr. Murray thought the two women would make great friends, telling Ms. Rosenberg that his wife was, “The best combination of Julia Child and Gina Lollobrigida, plus she can fix a car better than any of my male friends.”

Ms. Rosenberg recalls going for dinner at their home in London, and on the menu was an elaborate dessert, a surprisingly labour-intensive choice for someone with two young children.

There was a power outage that day, and the meringue portion didn’t come out quite right, but Ms. Rosenberg was still impressed – and was never again served a flawed meal by Ms. Murray, who loved to entertain and cooked big meals with apparent ease.

Ms. Rosenberg worked as food editor at the Toronto Star at the time and, impressed by her new friend’s cooking and writing skills, hired her as a freelancer. Ms. Murray began publishing articles, gaining some culinary training – over the years, she studied in Paris, Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Thailand – and teaching local cooking classes.

When Ms. Baird’s publisher wanted to put out more cookbooks and was looking for authors, she turned to Ms. Rosenberg, who suggested Ms. Murray. That led to her holiday cookbook coming out in 1979.

The Murray family were tasters for her recipes; son Allen recalls: “We would only ever get the same thing twice if it didn’t work the first time.”

By this time, the family had relocated to Owen Sound, Kent’s hometown. The family attended his old church, and while they expected to be approached by people sharing memories of the Murray clan, that never happened. “It was all about my mom and her cookbooks and her recipes,” Allen says.

After eight years, the family moved to Cambridge, where Ms. Murray became a fixture in the local food scene. She had her own cooking school for a number of years, and did some teaching at Conestoga College, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. She became a regular on radio and television programs across southern Ontario, and was frequently hired for speaking and demonstration engagements.

“She was just so likeable. People felt comfortable with her,” Ms. Rosenberg recalls.

During this time, she befriended local cookbook author Edna Staebler, and wrote an introduction to the 2007 commemorative edition of Food that Really Schmecks: Mennonite Country Cooking.

Ms. Murray’s work entailed travel and she always took the wheel, Ms. Baird recalls, adding that she was as skilled a driver as she was mechanic. Trips often included visits to local markets, Ms. Rosenberg says, and her friend often launched a quest to find unique local dishes and ingredients.

Ms. Murray’s joyful personality was all over her recipes, her public appearances and her love of entertaining. “If there was laughter in the room, I always knew that’s where Rose was,” Kent says.

When a friend heard that Ms. Murray had died, she said to Kent, “She’s probably up there doing the menu for the next party.”

Rose Murray leaves her husband, son and daughter, Anne Loxton; as well as her brother, John Varty; and grandchildren, Claire and Mitchell.

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