With five million copies of her books sold so far, Mary Berry seems unstoppable. We explore her views on how to inspire the next generation and delve into her latest cookbook, Classic.
Mary Berry can be described as the person who single-handedly brought baking back into fashion and it seems her personal mission is “to get everybody baking.”
Having taught the nation how to cook over the past four decades and with over 75 cookery books and several television shows including The Great British Bake Off under her belt, Mary is hands-down the country’s favourite baker and she appeals to all age groups. She was first encouraged to pursue cooking at school: “Mrs Date my Domestic Science teacher greatly inspired me, it was one of the only lessons I enjoyed!” she reveals.
“They are never too young to start cooking and it’s better to have a scone or bread mix to play with, rather than Play Doh!”
Mary went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in France before landing a series of jobs in catering that led to her first book, The Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook in 1970. Her Baking Bible of 2009 became a best-seller and she became Food Editor of Ideal Home in 1970.
Mary is passionate that children should be given the opportunity to start cooking as young as possible: “I think it should really start in secondary schools. In primary schools, it’s difficult to put the equipment in but in secondary schools it really makes a difference.” She continues: “Parents can start baking with children when they are younger and you can talk to them about nutrition in a simple way and do a bit of simple food preparation. They are never too young to start cooking and it’s better to have a scone or bread mix to play with, rather than Play Doh!”
“Children also get praise from their family when they have created something delicious”
Mary feels that cooking in schools is not given the priority she feels it deserves but is pragmatic: “The schools don’t have the facilities anymore and that’s sad – but it is getting better. Parents often run after-school clubs and teachers offer Saturday morning cooking classes. We’re really lucky that they help.”
Mary knows how important it is to enthuse children and to encourage their love of creativity: “The more they can do the better, but they must cook things that they enjoy eating! It’s no good doing recipes they are not going to like or that are too expensive. When children leave home to study or work they should be able to cook at least 10 different meals that are nutritious and that don’t cost too much.”
Continuing to foster a love of baking is also key, Mary says: “It’s never too early to let them help you cook their meal, which helps them learn all about food. Take them to a farm shop and help them understand where their food comes from – it’s all a part of their education.”
Cooking is also a great way for children who are perhaps not so academic to shine. “It’s something they can get into, enjoy and understand,” she explains. “The science of cooking can be very rewarding and those children also get praise from their family when they have created something delicious, which is important – perhaps especially so when they have not done so well at science or maths. An understanding of the nutrients in their recipes gives them lifelong lessons on the importance of eating healthily as well.”
Mary was impressed by the skills of the contestants on the Junior Bake-Off, who were aged between nine and 12: “The kids were absolutely amazing. They had been very well taught and had a great interest in food and were keen to learn. They were very good at analysing and fully understanding what they were doing to get to the final product. Children nowadays also have a much more sophisticated palate and enjoy a variety of curries and spicy foods, plus food like couscous and quinoa which used not to be popular. And they are brought up on chilli and curry!”
Mary’s latest book, Classic is out now and it showcases 120 favourite recipes. Mary admits to cooking many of them regularly: “The book includes updated recipes that everybody wants to make that are great for families. There’s a French Onion Soup, Haddock and Spinach Pie, Chicken Curry, Kedgeree and some vegetarian recipes as well. Of course there’s a bit of baking too!
Classic by Mary Berry. BBC Books, £26, available nationwide
Try Mary Berry’s recipe for Warm Fondant Brownies…click here!