This is a bit like my kitchen. (Only a bit, though because it’s quite small and there aren’t so many young people in it. Also, I have never to my knowledge mislaid a pastry lid, although sometimes bits around the edge mysteriously disappear when the pie comes out of the oven). It doesn’t even have a table …
MARY AND ME
AND … it doesn’t have the Queen of Baking in it!
But this is lucky me with MARY BERRY the other day! She is the most lovely person in person IYSWIM. As if you couldn’t see that for yourself when she’s on the Great British Bake Off. I thought I was going to be baking with her, but it turned out even better. Would have hated to see that look of disappointment in her eyes if my cake had collapsed.
On a sunny and mild October day, she sweetly gave up her time to come and talk about her life and her Christmas Recipe Book in Oxford last week. It was held in the house of a dynamic woman named Jo Lewis who turned her place into a domestic version of Patisserie Valerie (or Gatineau if you live around here). There were cakes and wonderful goodies to buy and the funniest speech. This was all in aid of a residential home called Stroud Court Community Trust for autistic adults. It’s a great place and a real refuge for many – so please take a look for yourself. £2,000 was raised in just 3 hours!
Now what did Mary talk about? Well there were some things that stood out, but I’ll mention a couple only as I’m sure you don’t want me to stop you from buying her autobiography.
One of the most memorable anecdotes was about how one day she was sitting at home last year when the phone rang. It was the Queen’s Private Secretary inviting Mary to lunch. After her initial surprise, she said that she was busy on that day and couldn’t come. Well the Private Secretary was clearly taken aback and asked why not? Clearly he hadn’t much experience of people turning down an invitation to eat with Her Majesty. Mary explained that she was giving a cookery demonstration to over 100 people at someone’s private house on that date. The PV said he knew the owner and would call to speak to him with a view to rearranging the time. Mary responded that she and her husband believed, as they had brought up their children to do, to honour your commitments and that she couldn’t possibly change the date. What happened? Well, in the end she was invited on a different day and had an hilarious time … but you’ll have to buy the book. (I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t actually have any involvement with her publishing firm or anything like that. Just a big fan).
Good Heavens! What a woman! I’d love to believe that I would respond in the same way if I ever got THE CALL. Ahem. Anyway, hats off for Mary Berry.
The second thing she talked about was how and why she didn’t pile on the pounds. This is a woman of 78 – although she looked about fifteen years younger – and I can’t imagine anyone would be remotely disapproving if she scoffed a few cream cakes or a couple of large slices of Victoria sponge every other day. Especially when you bake like she does!
So when one of the guests asked her,
“How do you stay so slim, Mary?”
The answer was both sad and practical. One of her sons was tragically killed aged 19, and she and her husband were so grief-stricken they couldn’t eat anything apart from soup. She lost a lot of weight. As time went by Mary realised that it would do no harm for health reasons to keep the weight off. Now she drinks only soup during the day, and even divulged that she chose from a selection of low-calorie soups from one of the grander supermarkets. I’ve always thought they’d be a bit watery and tasteless but am heading off today to raid the relevant aisles in Poshrose.
Mary must be one of the most self-disciplined people I’ve ever come across. She also has a wicked sense of humour, describing Paul Hollywood as being very good on the GBBO with the contestants, but a bit too “stiff and firm”. Perhaps she was describing his crusty cob or whipped cream … or even the ‘Hollywood Handshake’ that you get when his tastebuds have been truly tickled. Mary Berry herself is a class act and probably would be flattered to be described as having a “derrière comme une pȇche” as Sue Perkins said last night in the Semi-Finals.
I was really sorry to miss tasting these cakes as I had to shoot off to another VIP event …
… but the ones I really wanted to take home were these … Mmmmmm
Difficult to get a sense of how beautifully designed they were from the photograph, but I imagine that having half a dozen little Mary Berrys in ones kitchen would have the dough rising all by itself.
Thanks for a lovely day, Mary!
If you’re thinking of making Macaroons, take a peep here at ninjakillercat on her 19 October post for a delicious recipe. Have a tasty week and let me know what you think of the winning recipes on the finals of GBBO