So you think you can cook? Mary Berry talks to World of Books about her newest cookbook, her cake advice, and being a judge on ‘The Great British Bake-off’

Mary Berry is a British cookery writer, TV cook and Aga expert. From an early age Mary knew she wanted to pursue a career in food having learnt the art of baking from her mother. At the young age of 18 she trained at the Bath College of Home Economics, followed by a Paris Cordon Bleu course, and finally qualified as a teacher. In the 1960’s Mary became Cookery Editor of the magazine Housewife and later she wrote for Ideal Home Magazine. Mary’s first cookery book was released in 1966 – The Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook. 46 years after this first book, Mary has published over 70 more cookery books, selling over five million copies around the world. In January 2004, Mary was voted Top 3 by BBC Good Food for the category “Most Reliable Celebrity Cook Books”, alongside Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith. Throughout the years, Mary has established her style as “family food”, with practical healthy recipes containing lots of fresh ingredients. Appearing on numerous TV and Radio programmes, she has shared her culinary secrets with the nation, initially appearing on Judith Chalmers’ Afternoon Plus show in the 1970s. Since then Mary has become a household name, hosting seven cookery series for Thames Television as well as several series for the BBC including Mary Berry at Home and Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cakes. Today Mary continues to be a contributor for Radio and TV programmes. Mary’s latest book, Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook, was released on 1st February 2012.

Mary Berry

Mary Berry

Hi Mary,

Thank you for letting us interview you Mary, you’re definitely the Queen of cooking, so we’re thrilled!

Q: What do you regard as your guilty comfort food?

Toast and marmalade at times when it is not breakfast !

Q: What’s the average day in the life of Mary Berry?

– Well it can vary but when I am at home and not filming I get up early and have breakfast with my husband. I go and feed our ducks who are waiting for their breakfast and Paul takes our black Labrador Millie for a walk. Lucy Young my assistant arrives and we sit and go through emails and the plan for the day. We have recipes to test for books or TV and we set too and methodically test them. We discuss new ideas and the plan of the diary and carefully reply to emails from publishers, companies, charities and the public. When I am filming I am up at 5am and home about 7pm so this is different again.

Q: As we’ve already mentioned, your newest cookery book, ‘Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook’, was released on 1st February this year. This book is actually a revised version of ‘The Complete Cookbook but has been modernised and updated with 30 new recipes from large family meals to intimate dinner parties. The idea of the book is to “give you inspiration every time”. With the dozens of cookery books you’ve now written Mary, how easy do you find it coming up with new and fresh ideas?

– Luckily we get new ingredients all the time and they become popular and fashionable, fennel, red chard, new salad leaves. I am now revisiting classic recipes from the 70’s. My assistants Lucy and Lucinda are young and give me new ideas like bowl food, risottos, wraps etc.

Q: We’ve found out that your personal favourite cake to make is a ginger treacle tray bake (sounds delicious we must say). Is this your favourite cake to make due to it’s simplicity when making it, or due to the finished cake itself? What has been the hardest cake you’ve made?

Battenburg - Can be a challenge!

Battenburg - Can be a challenge!

– To be honest I love eating it, but it is simple to make too which means it can be made in a flash if family or friends arrive. Battenburg cake is a challenge but we have worked hard to make it easy to make without using a special tin.

Q: Now a lot of World of Books customers have come across your first cookery book, The Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook which was published in 1966. Since then you’ve written loads more cook books ranging from quick and easy recipes for people on the go in ‘Real Food Fast’ (2007), to cakes and baking in ‘My Kitchen Table: 100 Cakes and Bakes’. With over 60 years experience in cooking, how would you say it has changed and evolved over the years?

– I think it’s the ingredients – they are more readily available and basic ingredients are more prepared. In the 1960s chicken breasts did not exist – you had to buy a chicken, cut it in 4 and use the breasts, legs, wings and drumsticks. We use less fat nowadays too, less sugar and non stick pans. The choice of dairy has changed too, with crème fraiche, mascarpone, and lots of different creams available, which means icings for cakes do not always need to be the same.

Q: In 1994 you and your daughter Annabel launched your Original Family Recipe Salad Dressing enterprise. Although the products were originally sold at your Aga Workshop cookery school, they proved such a success that you both set about selling “top quality dressings and sauces, using the very best ingredients” nationwide. The products are GM free, contain free-range eggs, have no artificial flavourings or preservatives, and all dressings (except the Caesar Dressing) are 100% vegetarian (sounds good to us!) Now the product range is the UK’s leading provider of gourmet salad dressings and sauces, and is also sold in Ireland and Germany. What was yours and your daughter’s inspiration for these dressings? And have you been surprised at their success?

The salad dressing was a family recipe which everyone thought was special whenever I made it at home. Annabel suggested one day that we bottle and sell it and this is where it all started. I used to make a Mustard dressing at home too, and this soon was bottled followed by our other flavours and we now have dressings, sauces and chutneys.

Q: If you could go back and give your 16-year old self any words of advice, what would they be?

– Choose a vocation that you enjoy and put your all into it. Get all the experience you can and work hard – you will feel good about yourself and the rewards will come.

Q: For the past two years you have been a judge on BBC2’s ‘The Great British Bake Off’. How much fun is this to be a part of?

– I just love it ! The bakers are all amateur and do it for love of baking, and the filming is great fun. I have learnt new things from them and with the internet ingredients are available to everyone.

The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off

Q: So, we’ll admit, some of the cakes made by us here at World of Books have often been disasters, with soggy sponges and crumbly messes to tell the tale! What are your top three bits of advice for any aspiring (or just trying!) bakers out there?

– Follow a good recipe, weigh accurately and keep it simple if you are new to baking. Remember all ovens vary, and most of all enjoy it.

Q: And finally, World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

Oh yes, I love the touch of a book and the passing through the family generations and, as you say, recycling them. Hopefully there is a place for both books and ebooks in the future.

Thank you for a lovely interview Mary! And to our World of Books customers, if this has got your taste-buds tingling then make sure you grab a copy of Mary’s newest cookbook ‘Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook‘, it comes thoroughly recommended by us. And interested in trying out some of Mary’s old recipes? Why not visit the World of Books site today and see what we have available?

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