Mary Berry shares her love for Hampshire, a visit to Highclere Castle and her thoughts on dogs in the kitchen
PUBLISHED: 10:44 31 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:44 31 July 2018
You can't keep Mary Berry out of the kitchen and the same goes for Hampshire. Bernard Bale hears about her favourite places to visit
You know that all is well when Queen of the Kitchen Mary Berry is on our TV screens again, and clearly she had a great time as a judge on the BBC’s captivating new TV kitchen contest - Britain’s Best Home Cook.
It was thought by some that Mary might put her feet up when The Great British Bake-Off switched channels but the lady herself had other ideas, and now she seems to be busier than ever with this new cookery contest and more shows in the oven.
“I like to be on the go, I can get bored very easily,” she said. “I am always looking forward to achieving one thing and then moving on to the next challenge. It feels that I am alive when I am busy.”
Of course, Mary is in constant demand but when she is asked to pay a visit to Hampshire she never hesitates fitting it into her busy schedule.
“I have been many times and it is a wonderful county with such diversity,” she said. “The docks are fascinating, especially in the Royal Navy areas. It is quite exciting to visit and feel the history surrounding it. I am a Dickens fan as well and Portsmouth can be proud of the fact that he was born there.
“I was at the Isle of Wight Literature Festival at Osborne House a while ago and loved being on the island again. Alan Titchmarsh was there too and we had a lovely time. Then of course when we were doing the Country House Secrets series; I had the absolute delight of spending time at Highclere Castle.
“Highclere has a constant flow of visitors who are fans of Downton and I was one of them. I spent most of my time with Lady Fiona Carnarvon, who was absolutely welcoming and justifiably very proud of the house. I remember making some raspberry tarts and had tea with her and then I made the gamekeepers a pheasant stew. I cooked it and took it down to them all – they had wonderful appetites! I was terribly interested in their wonderful spaniels as I love dogs and these were so well behaved. It was lovely to spend time with the Carnarvons in their beautiful family home which is a credit to them and the county.”
Even then Mary couldn’t resist spending time in the kitchen.
“I cannot help myself, I think that is why I also enjoyed Britain’s Best Home Cook so much. It presented a greater challenge than even Bake-Off did. The other judges and myself set challenges that asked the cooks to demonstrate individual flair, skill, creativity and breadth in their home cooking. The themes chosen got increasingly more challenging and technically advanced, setting the cooks apart in terms of their abilities and skills. Each week they had to prepare an ultimate home favourite and then create an improvised dish around a single ingredient.
“We were looking for someone who makes the most of our wonderful British ingredients with variations on the classics. We wanted things that their own families would love when they eat them! We also want people watching at home to be inspired, get the ingredients and have a go. This isn’t about fancy food or complicated stuff just simple really well cooked food with a great style. They were not restricted to traditional British dishes. Half a century ago we couldn’t get the ingredients that are available now and we didn’t have the influences from other cultures that we have now.”
Mary Berry knows more about cooking than most of us will ever master but she admits that she never stops learning.
“I can honestly tell you that I also learn from the competitors in these shows,” she said. “When you watch them you pick up little tips and that’s really pleasing. You never stop learning in life and you certainly never ever stop learning in the kitchen. I like cooking and cooks so I am in my element with Britain’s Best Home Cook!”
It might come as a surprise that there is one special ingredient that Mary always likes to have in her own kitchen.
“I like to have Darcy my working cocker spaniel in the kitchen with me,” she revealed.
“I know some people might say that you shouldn’t have dogs in the kitchen but I don’t have a problem with that. She is very well behaved and house trained and she often sits on a chair alongside me while I’m cooking at home.
Mary Berry likes nothing better than to champion family life and not just through home cooking. She believes in families spending time together at work, rest and play – and that family includes the dog!
Programmes about food and cooking are among the most popular offerings on television which delights Mary, although she used to worry a little.
“It used to concern me that cookery programmes used to attract spectators who liked watching other people work,” she explained. “With so many take-away shops or the ablity to just buy a ready-made meal and stuff into the microwave quite a few TV cooks wondered if they were just presenting a spectator sport.
“Going around the country and talking to people I have been thrilled to find that we need have no such worries. I often have people chat to me about how they tried this recipe or that because they saw us preparing it on television. That was music to my ears because you just cannot beat home cooking and to know that so many people are trying so many different dishes and other things because they have seen it on television is really marvellous.
“If only we could have smellvision too. I promise you that when the cooks are in action on the shows the aromas that float around us are fabulous. It can make you quite hungry; and also on the new show we have to keep an eye on Claudia Winkleman our hostess. She likes to put her finger into the dishes and have a sneaky taste when she thinks nobody is watching.”
Mary keenly looks forward to her return to Hampshire in part because of the quality food from the county.
“There are some excellent farmers markets and they are always well worth supporting”, she said. “By tradition, Hampshire has also always been very well known for its quality pork. The traditional rasher pudding is very famous as is the Hampshire Haslet.
“With such proximity to the sea and superb rivers the county can rightly boast its excellent fish and for me, as well, there is the wonderful watercress which is possibly one of the most understated products around.”
Mary’s enthusiasm for Hampshire is clear, as is her genuine love of the kitchen.
“I am never too busy to get in the kitchen,” she revealed. “That is where I find true peace and happiness and the sheer joy of creating something for people to enjoy whether it is a very special cake or a plate of chips.
“Seeing people enjoy something that you have cooked is one of the greatest pleasures ever.”
• What celebrities love most about Hampshire - Some of Hampshire’s best known personalities have revealed what they most love about the county. Here, we compile some quotes from our interviews over the years