Mary Berry is the grand dame of British cookery. The star of the Great British Bake Off, and a face in British television cookery since the 1970s, she is a real icon, has loved for her fashion sense as she is for her slightly naughty personality (soggy bottoms anyone!). Last Thursday a packed Birmingham Town Hall sat enthralled as Mary talked all things cooking and family in her own inimitable way. Here are some of the highlights of a fascinating evening with the woman rightly described as ‘one of the most important voices in food in this century and the last century.’
On the National Television Awards
I didn’t think I was going to win, I went to see all the cast of ‘Call the Midwife’. I didn’t think I would win best judge, Len Goodman was retiring and there was Simon Cowell who was bound to win, so I didn’t do a speech. I hadn’t even worked out how to get on the stage. But I was very honoured because it’s the viewers who vote, not a team.
At school I went to the back of the class so I wouldn’t be asked any questions. My best subject was domestic science or break.
I went to be a chalet girl in Gstaad. We invited guests over from the UK and charged them £22 a fortnight, and we did all the cooking and skied all day.
I used to smuggle piglets into my bed. My dad loved animals far more than us children. I always loved the runt of the letter. I used to nip in and fetch them, wrap them in a towel and take them to bed. There was nothing nicer to take to bed.
I worked for the Ideal Home Magazine. There were only two pages of colour in magazines in those days, and the recipes were very classic. I was one of the first people to go to celebrities to get their recipes. Mary Quant was one of the first, she did a sausage risotto. She got a local restaurant to make her recipe, but she dressed the room so beautifully – she was a designer not a cook. But the recipe was delicious.
I wrote a book on freezing for M&S at the time when people were just starting to freeze things at home. It was picked up by producers looking for a cooking segment for a Judith Chalmers programme. I was asked if I would be interested in television and I jumped at it. They created me a kitchen in the studio from scratch – non of the cupboards opened and the sink was actually from a hose and a bucket – but it was really good fun.
‘There’s going to be a new TV series about cakes and baking – would you like to be considered as a judge?’ Liked to, I’d love to. I got the job but then they said you’ll also be doing bread. Now, I wasn’t very good at bread so they brought in four bread experts and asked who I would like to work with. I chose Paul Hollywood and we has seven fabulous years together, such terrific fun. I love that the format got Britain baking, particularly children. I always had a hot water bottle under my coat on Bake Off. A hot water bottle is such an old fashioned thing isn’t it.
Bake off Mantra
My Mantra is to get people to enjoy baking, to always find something good about the creation. So even if it sinks or falls apart you need to say something nice, like that it has good flavours.
I’ve never had a pizza delivered, and this is thought to be rather odd, but I’ve just never got around to it.
I love growing herbs, everybody can do it whether you have a big garden and a window box. When I started cooking it was all dried herbs, now you can get so many fresh and they add so much flavour to cooking.
I like to do a recipe, do a few things with it and suggest a few different ingredients you could use, and then suggest what to do with the leftovers.