Mary Berry is one of UK’s best-known and respected TV cooks, most famous for her role as former judge on BBCs Great British Bake Off and a prolific cookery writer with over 75 cookery books to her name. She trained in Home Economics, followed by a Paris Cordon Bleu course and quickly established her style as ‘family food’ with ‘fool proof’ healthy recipes containing lots of fresh ingredients.
Mary is also an Aga expert and in the ’90 launched her Aga Workshops, a cookery school at home, with over twelve thousand visitors over sixteen years. Later that decade, Mary, with her daughter Annabel, launched Mary Berry’s Salad Dressing, which was the first of many family inspired salad dressings, chutneys & sauces and condiments that are now available from all major supermarkets as well as her own on-line shop.
This is when I first caught up with her and interviewed her for the weekly gardening column that I used to write in the Sunday Mirror for over 17 years. During our chat I learned about Mary’s real passion for gardening and especially for growing herbs, soft fruit and vegetables.
In 2014 Mary Berry, known as the ‘Queen of Cakes’, became an RHS Ambassador, championing growing your own food and also a key supporter of her favourite garden, RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey
Mary claimed that her lifetime mission is to encourage people to use good quality, wholesome ingredients and to wean the Nation off unhealthy fast foods and to back up her statement by reiterating her ‘home grown is best’ philosophy, she said that “there’s nothing fresher tasting than home grown vegetables picked minutes before popping them into the pot!”
Mary also claimed that in another world, she might have even become a gardener, but admitted that in truth, she was really only a fair-weather gardener who did not like doing it during the winter. The one aspect of gardening that she had always enjoyed was to be able to wander into the garden to do a bit of watering, as it gives her time to do a bit of creative thinking!
At the time we met, Mary was growing all the herbs that she used in her recipes and especially parsley and dill, which are key flavours in many of her favourite dishes, as well as all those that feature in her secret recipes of salad dressings and sauces.
MARY’S TOP TIPS
Grow only the varieties that what you want to eat and freeze the surplus – her family favourites are rocket, leeks and salads, and always pick vegetables in peak condition whilst they are still young and tender. She also advises that you boil vegetable fast on the top of the cooker rather than in a steamer, which takes longer and spoils the colour of the food.
See your vegetable plot as an outdoor larder where you can help yourself to fresh ingredients for the kitchen. Mary recommends laying the vegetable plot out in the simple style of an allotment with neat straight rows that are easy to tend and to hoe regularly to cut out annual weed seedlings. If weeds are left to grow, they’ll deplete the soil or water and nutrients and self-seed making more backbreaking work.
To maintain a year-round supply of vegetables aim to ‘succession sow’, so there is always a new crop maturing as one is being cut. She says that it’s wise to avoid growing ‘difficult’ plants like brassicas that succumb to pests like the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly, and always opt for disease resistant varieties. Doing this means you can avoid spraying and grow things organically and without too much effort.
Dare to experiment. Mary recommends selecting vegetables for their appearance as well as taste and especially lettuce, which come with every leaf colour and shape imaginable and also tomatoes that also come in an enormous range and can be used in so many ways in the kitchen.
Always grow plants according to the seed packet instructions, bending the rules only when experience dictates. And Mary also suggests conditioning the soil annually with well-rotted manure and coir compost to guarantee a good harvest.
One of her top tips is to give potatoes a wide berth because they’re mostly ready for harvesting when they’re plentiful in the shops. She doesn’t like to waste time and precious space on them or any other plants that struggle in your soil.
Actively seek out tips from other gardeners on how to resolve problems too. One bit of advice that Mary stands by, was given to her by the well-known flower arranger and vegetable gardener Sarah Raven, which is to sow rocket after 1st August to do away with the problem of flea beetle.
Taste the difference with Mary Berry’s range of salad dressings www.maryberry.co.uk
Mary’s winning streak
In the 2012 Birthday Honours Mary was awarded an CBE for services to culinary arts and in the same year was given an honorary degree for her lifelong achievements in her field by Bath Spa University.
In 2014, she gained a few more gongs when she was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bath and also the Freedom of the City of London, when she was clothed with the livery of the Worshipful Company of Bakers. She also won the Specsavers National Book Awards for “Outstanding Achievement”.
During 2017, Mary won the award for Best TV Judge at the National Television Awards for Great British Bake Off.
From 2010 to 2016 she was one of the judges BBC One’s The Great British Bake off alongside bake Paul Hollywood PHOTO: entertainmentcareers.net