Mary Berry’s cooking up a storm on her new TV show, Absolute Favourites. Here, she chats about simple ingredients and cooking with family
Over eight decades, Mary Berry has seen food fads come and go. And the latest one - kale - she deals with in typically firm fashion.
“No, I don’t like it and I see it everywhere. I grew a new kale, which was rather big and a dark colour, and it looked so pretty in the garden.
‘‘Then I started to cook it and it was so strong and bitter. I know it’s good for us, but I’d prefer to grow land cress, or something a little bit different.”
But Berry - who grew up with rationing, turned 80 in March and has written more than 70 cookery books since the late Sixties - is softer on other ‘new’ ingredients, including the basil she grows in the garden of her beautiful Buckinghamshire home.
“When I trained and when I was a housewife, I automatically used dried herbs. You couldn’t get fresh ones in a supermarket, you could grow them but people didn’t know quite how to do it.
“Basil was something you only got in France, and now we sow basil in the garden in May and we’ve got it in the garden from late June onwards. We make our own pesto. Things have certainly changed, and this is the joy of new ingredients. I can remember when butternut squash was new, and we all thought, ‘Butternut squash?!’ But we love it now.
“We also grow fennel,” adds Berry, who makes a fennel slaw in her latest book, Absolute Favourites, which accompanies her new BBC Two show.
“My husband says, ‘What are you putting fennel in? We didn’t have it [as children], my mother didn’t do it!’ I say, ‘Hard luck, you’re going to have it!’
“I really enjoy fennel, I’ve worked out how to cook it. People say it tastes of aniseed, but it doesn’t; if you cook it, it’s just the most beautiful vegetable. If you finely slice it and marinate it as the base of the salad, it gives the most beautiful flavour, you’ve just got to convert people to it.
“But I’m never going to convert them to kale, because I think it will come and go, personally. There are certain things I will not do, because I don’t like it myself.”
She’s certainly not a fan of deep fat frying either - “every chef’s programme, they wheel in this machine, but at home, you do it on the cooker and it’s dangerous” - but she gets her fill of chips when she goes out (“usually other people’s”), and cooks oven chips at home for her five grandchildren when they visit, which makes her own children admonish her with an “Oh Granny!”.
Her grandchildren appear in the BBC Two series, Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites. Her 12-year-old twin granddaughters, Abby and Grace, make biscuits, while her grandsons are put to work on a pasta bake.
“I’ve learned you don’t have two stirring at the same time! I gave them their own jobs, I said, ‘You make sauce, you cook the pasta’, so they’re separate, because boys will be boys!”
Food and family have always gone together for Berry, who married husband Paul in 1966 and had three children, Thomas, Annabel and William, who sadly died when he was just 19.
“I’m very lucky to have family and there’s nothing better than cooking with children - there’s no happier way of keeping children amused than teaching them,” she says.
For all her TV success over the years, including most recently with The Great British Bake Off, Berry still likes to think of herself as a “family cook, with all the problems that everyone else has”.
“I’ve had failures - I’ve used salt instead of sugar, I’ve had cakes going down in the middle, but that’s good, because then we can commiserate!”
As for her absolute favourite meal, she loves nothing more than a nice plate of potted shrimps.
“If ever I was on my own, I would have one of my son’s hens’ eggs, some really good bread and some potted shrimps, which I would warm through with butter and a bit of spice, on toast. Those are the sort of things I like.”
Try one of Mary Berry’s favourite recipes for yourself at home.
ROASTED SAUSAGE AND POTATO SUPPER
Berry says: “This will become a firm family favourite as it can be cooked in one dish and is so quick and easy to put together. If you’re making this for young children, you can replace the wine with stock, if you prefer. Choose your favourite type of local, British sausage for this recipe - my family loves leek and sage.”
2tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, sliced lengthways into wedges
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into large dice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp chopped thyme leaves
500g baby new potatoes, unpeeled and halved
12 sausages, pricked with a fork
200ml white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7.
Place all the ingredients except the wine in a large, resealable freezer bag. Seal the bag shut and shake well to coat everything in the oil. Alternatively, put everything in a large bowl and turn the ingredients until they are fully coated in the oil. Tip into a large roasting tin, spreading the ingredients out into one even layer and ensuring that the sausages aren’t covered by any of the vegetables. Season well with salt and pepper.
Roast for about 30-35 minutes until golden, then remove from the oven, turn the sausages over and toss the vegetables in the cooking juices. Pour in the wine and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes, or until browned and the sausages are cooked and the potatoes tender. Serve hot with a dollop of mustard on the side.