Why family have given Mary Berry plenty of food for thought
With a solo TV show and new book to promote, her schedule couldn't be more jam-packed at the moment. But The Great British Bake Off judge always tries to make it home to cook supper, as Jeananne Craig finds out
As the UK's favourite home cook, Mary Berry has a reputation to uphold. So before a dish can grace the pages of her books – which numbered 74 at the last count – she tries it out on her most discerning critics.
"I'm very lucky to have a family, because they're rude," says Berry, smiling. "Everything is tested until we think it's right."
The author and TV cook, known to millions as a judge on The Great British Bake Off, enlisted the help of her five grandchildren for her latest cookbook and BBC Two series, Mary Berry Cooks, in which she shares her favourite meals for family and friends.
In the show, the youngsters – who range in age from three to 11 – help their grandmother, who turns 79 this month, make treats for a tea party and enjoy a Sunday lunch she has prepared.
"They were like little television stars," says a proud Berry, who regularly receives letters and pictures from fans whose grandchildren have replicated Bake Off cakes.
Family is clearly at the heart of Berry's life. Despite her busy schedule, the Bath-born cook does her best to get home to Buckinghamshire in time to cook supper for husband Paul (the other Paul in her life being fellow Bake Off judge Mr Hollywood).
"I'm boringly traditional. It's very important to me," she admits. "Although tonight, we're going to the village pub, because I've been out for two days."
Traditional she may be, but Berry isn't afraid to admit to the occasional kitchen time-saver, from stock cubes and shop-bought pesto to ready-made filo pastry.
"I don't mind taking shortcuts, because everybody else does."
Nor is Cordon Bleu-trained Berry precious about holding on to treasured recipes.
"Life is all about sharing. If we're good at something, let's pass it on. That's the pleasure I get from teaching, whether it's TV, books or radio. It's sharing what I've learnt to do."
Along with the delicious cakes with which her name has become synonymous in recent years, Mary Berry Cooks contains plenty of ideas for mouth-watering main meals, from Asian belly of pork to butternut squash and spinach lasagne.
Still, it comes as a surprise to hear the Bake Off doyenne reveal: "I really think I like doing the main course or first course best."
That's not to say that Berry doesn't love a good Victoria sponge or moist chocolate cake – but only in moderation.
"I try to stay a reasonable size," says the slight and slim cook, who confesses she was concerned about putting on weight when she signed up for Bake Off in 2010. "I hope I've shown people, have a small slice of cake, enjoy every bit, but don't go back for another one."
It's hard to believe that Berry – who is sporting a trendy faux fur gilet, vintage pencil skirt and candy pink nail polish when we meet – is approaching octogenarian status. "I think I'm lucky with good genes," she says, blue eyes sparkling.
As for her impeccable dress sense, Berry explains simply: "Mum always used to say you should be bright and cheerful."
And with that, the eternally bright and cheerful Berry heads back to Buckinghamshire, for that date with her husband at the pub.
Here are some tasty recipes from Mary Berry Cooks for you to try at home.