Very Mary Berry

It’s official. The girls and I have declared this week Mary Berry Week.

Having never heard of Mary Berry before the last series of the Great British Bake-Off (I know, I must have been on Mars while she wrote her first 69 cookbooks), I am now in serious awe of the 77-year-old scourge of the soggy bottom. So, armed with my Christmas book token – thank you Clive and Penny – I recently bought At Home by Mary Berry and Lucy Young.

Aside from drooling over the umpteen scrummy-looking recipes, I’ve been feeling rather sorry for Mary’s fellow author and cook Lucy Young, who has been Berry’s assistant for 23 years and, though very much younger and with a gorgeous smile, is resoundingly upstaged by the perfect, petite Mary, who pops up everywhere in her pearls, clutching yet another beautifully risen offering. Of course, MB is the official face of the team but I feel the book treads an uneasy middle ground, acknowledging Lucy Young’s role yet elbowing her out of the full limelight which beams so beautifully on Mary’s platinum bob.

Anyway, the point of the book is not the relationship between unlikely superstar and shy assistant, but between my family, their stomachs and Mary Berry’s recipes. So we have declared that every day this week, I will cook a dish from the book.

So far, we’ve had the totally delicious Scrumpy Beef Casserole with Parsley and Horseradish Dumplings, and the Pappardelle with Tomato and Vodka Sauce, and I’ve just made the Quick Chicken Curry for tonight, when we get back late from ballet. The first two recipes were great, and the best thing about them is you can improvise a bit. I am not, alas, one of these organised cooks who flicks through recipes, decides the week’s meals, then shops accordingly. Instead, I shop, then get home, look in the fridge, and realise I’ve just bought all the same stuff we already had. Then I start making something at random, usually without reading the instructions through to the end. Nothing strikes dread into my heart like the words, ‘Then add the mango chutney.’ That’s what you get for winging it. I usually convince myself that the mango chutney, or whatever the surprise ingredient is, will not be crucial. The truth is that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. With the Scrumpy Beef, I didn’t actually have the half-litre of strong cider Mary put in. I used old white wine instead. It was fine. With the Tomato and Vodka Sauce, I used the rest of the old white wine instead of vodka. And I didn’t have any Pappardelle, so I used penne. It was fine. Tonight, with the chicken curry, I didn’t have fresh ginger or chilies. I used dried instead. But I did – miracle of miracle – have mango chutney. Yay!

We are loving Mary Berry’s book so far. Still two days of recipes to go, but there are loads there which look tempting. My usual problem is that one girl or other will veto a dish on the grounds that it contains her pet hate of the moment. So far, no one has banned anything. I have high hopes that I will end the week as much in awe of Mary Berry as I started. And Lucy Young, of course.

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