There’s culinary royalty to be found just down the road next month, as part of The Bath Festival – get involved!
Just a 10-minute train ride away, Mary Berry awaits – next month at Bath venue The Forum, that is – to talk about her life in cookery, her new book, and the art of keeping cool even when your bottom goes soggy. For those who’ve got tickets and are fidgeting with anticipation, we’ve been scrounging for tidbits to keep you going ahead of the main event…
TBM: Mary! Can you explain the thought process that went into the writing of your new book Everyday?
MB: I was thinking about, as the title suggests, the ‘everyday’. Everyday can be just with the family, it can mean having friends around; it can be a special occasion. This book is giving the recipes I have done for a long time, a bit of a twist. There aren’t too many ingredients in them either, which was also important. But you must also remember ingredients do change. For instance, butternut squash and quinoa are used a lot more now. People see quinoa on the supermarket shelf and they know they have had it in a restaurant but they don’t know what to do with it. And so, I have added a few more ingredients to the quinoa in order to make it tastier. I want to inspire people to cook and I do think a book is a nice thing to have. I am very lucky that people do trust me and that they do have a go.
Can you name some of your favourite recipes from the book?
I like the ones I can make ahead because we are all busy, and I like to do something that is suitable for the weather – things that are in season, things that aren’t too complicated. I’ve included some summery recipes in this book, plus casseroles with dumplings. Usually with dumplings, it’s a blob! What I have done is taken a suet crust and flattened it out and then made it into a Swiss roll, putting horseradish in the swirl. It’s delicious.
Did you try the recipes out on your family first?
They are all tried out at home. My family tell me what they think. And yes, I do take constructive criticism! The children might say “oh yuck” or someone may say “that takes too long to do” – those don’t go in the book. It’s important not to have too many ingredients or pieces of equipment.
If you had to pick out a few vital tips, what would they be?
It’s a good idea to have a set of digital scales. Not so much for savoury dishes, but definitely for baking because if you do go heavy on an ingredient, it can alter the whole texture. If people want the same result as I have been showing them on television, a set of measuring spoons is ideal, too, especially if they want the same flavour – and particularly so with spices.
Does your husband ever try to butt in and help with the cooking?
Paul is wonderful. He is always there for me. Take today – I have a big day and he was so brilliant, cleaning and tidying everything after breakfast. But him do the cooking? You must be joking! I do the cooking at home and on the rare occasion I’m not well, he will always make an omelette. After two or three omelettes, I am normally better!
And what savoury dish is your stand-out speciality?
It depends on what sort of occasion it is. If it’s a cold winter’s day, I might do beef stew with horseradish dumplings or I might do a fillet of beef en croute. As a rule, my first course would very likely be on a little plate for everybody with maybe a salad or a terrine. Ready to serve. And then the main dish, I prepare ahead so then I simply need to reheat it or add something like cream or fried mushrooms. For the pudding, I do two – one luxurious one and also some fresh fruit prepared without any sugar in a bowl. You offer it to them but they never want it and we have it for breakfast the next day!
Are you keen to involve your family in your work life more now?
Annabel and I have cooked together since she was young and we had a salad dressings and sauces business together which we sold a few years ago but we still have approval on the new products. The grandchildren are in the new series of Everyday, which is accompanying the publication of my book. In one episode, I make goat’s cheese, and Atalanta helps me milk the goats. As we were walking up, I said to her; “Have you ever milked goats before?” Quick as a flash, she replied; “No granny, I have never milked nothing!” But she was so successful at milking the goat and I was no good at all! It’s good to involve children in helping to cook and choosing a recipe they can do well. If you have their friends around to play, you can make pizzas and let them choose your toppings or you can make cakes. They need someone there to help weigh things out but it is a lot of fun.
You have become part of British culture – especially nowadays. Do you ever get embarrassed or are you flattered?
People are so nice and I am very, very lucky. People touch me on the arm in a supermarket and gently lean over and say things like; “That lemon drizzle cake, we love it.” Most say; “Thanks to you, my children have got into baking.” It’s so lovely of them to say that.
So you’ve got the TV series accompanying this book, and a show about Britain’s great houses which you are about to film; do you have any other TV plans in the pipeline?
The historic houses series will be very interesting. We will be going to country houses that have families living in them and going behind the scenes to see how they live – watching them grow their vegetables, and finding out if they have any tips or recipes they have been handed down over the years. It is not going to be a history lesson because we want it to be informal.
Do you ever drag your friends along to your cooking demos?
In the new series of Everyday, I have asked some very close friends to a party in the final episode. There is a lot of hanging about but I hope they love coming. Our friends are really good. They are always very kind. If I am going to something like Strictly, I take a friend along as they enjoy it or one of my family members.
If the Queen invited you to cook for her, what would you serve?
I have been to Buckingham Palace for lunch in the past. I know she loves things made from British ingredients. I would use something very much in season, something light. I think I would ask her first because she must have some favourites that I don’t know about – I’d do a twist on something she suggested.