woman&home met Mary Berry last night and discovered that she learns so much from the “fanatical” Bake Off contestants (and that she has a copy of woman&home packed in her suitcase and ready to go to Bake Off HQ).
A tightknit group has formed on one side of the room. At the centre, you can catch a glimpse of that trademark pale blonde bob, perfectly blow dried. It’s Mary Berry, and this is the launch of her latest cookbook, The Complete Aga Cookbook.
I approach the crowd. I’m a starstruck fan, a religious watcher of the Great British Bake Off. I want to tell her how much I love watching the show, but I’m sure she’s heard it all before, probably 10 million times – well, 9.3 million people tuned in to watch the first episode of the new series.
“I-just-want-say-how-much-I-love-watching-Bake-Off,” I blurt out, when she catches my eye. Mary smiles at me.
“Hi,” she says, taking me in her stride – she must be used to this.
“I’m Anna from woman&home,” I say, to introduce myself.
“Oh, I love woman&home,” says Mary. “I have a copy in my suitcase ready to go to Bake Off with me tomorrow.”
Now I’m really starstruck. I feel like I’m a contestant on the show, mid-technical challenge, hands shaking as they get to grips with some complicated piping just as Sue shouts one of her pithy time checks.
Does Mary have anything to learn from the contestants? “Oh yes, of course I do,” she says. “They are absolutely fanatical about baking. They teach me so much.”
But it’s Mary who has taught us so much. It’s more than 20 years since her first cookbook of Aga cooking, The Aga Book, and there have been so many books before and after, on everything from classic British cooking to baking (of course). Many are co-written with Lucy Young, who also co-wrote the latest book.
woman&home has some recipes from the book to share, including Mary Berry’s pear frangipane tart, as seen on this series of Bake Off. All the recipes include instructions for how to make them in a conventional oven and in an Aga.
Plus, Mary Berry’s treacle pudding is made the old fashioned way with golden syrup, for a really nostalgic taste.
The there’s Mary Berry’s passion fruit and lemon baked cheesecake, which is full of wonderful zingy flavours. Don’t worry if it dips in the middle, you should expect it – it’s still delicious!
“My copy of that first book is so tatty with corrections,” says Mary. “After 25 years, things have changed. In those days, fresh herbs were something you couldn’t buy at the supermarket. Butternut squash, fennel, celeriac, the overuse of chillies – by my children – these are now all readily available.
“Even the method of cooking has changed. For my part, I love slow cooking. At home, I’m no longer in charge and my young are sometimes an hour late to eat on a Sunday, but with slow roasting it doesn’t matter – and there’s no arguments about carving.”
Mary had very special thanks for Lucy, not just for “working tirelessly on this book” but for more than 25 years working together.
“Lucy changed my life,” she told guests at the book launch party last night. “She does everything for me and even tells me what to wear!”
The Complete Aga Cookbook by Mary Berry and Lucy Young is out now.