Mary Berry on her heartwarming BBC series Simple Comforts, inspired by her travels home and abroad…
Mary Berry maybe 85 but she’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Before lockdown The Great British Bake Off icon set off on a whirlwind culinary odyssey that involved her trying out new activities as well as new dishes. From making crepes at a Parisian street stand to acting as coxswain for a rowing team on the Thames, Mary proved more than ready and willing to embrace new experiences, often while braving the elements.
Those adventures in Britain and abroad and the fuss-free, warming dishes they inspired are at the heart of her new six-part series Mary Berry’s Simple Comforts on BBC2.
Here, Mary Berry reveals the highlights from her new series Simple Comforts…
Does it feel special to have made this series before Lockdown?
Mary Berry: “I can’t tell you how thrilling it was for me to have filmed this before Lockdown. It’s so stimulating to do different things, which is what I love about this series. I think what we all need right now is a hug in a pan. This is the food that makes you feel that everything will be alright. It’s just the right thing to bring everybody back to a normal, happy family life.”
What are your highlights from episode one in Paris – where you studied at the prestigious culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu in the late 1950s?
MB: “Things were very different when I was first in Paris, I was on my own, very young, very nervous and had to do everything for myself. As you will see, it was cold and windy! But I do love being out and about and doing things. I visit a little creperie where there was a queue and had a go making crepes. The chap who was making them did them at great speed. I had a go, and was pretty useless! But it was fun and tasted good!”
Do you have a favourite recipe from the Paris episode of Simple Comforts?
MB: “Croque Monsieur. I have memories of it when I was in Cordon Bleu trillions of years ago. It’s absolutely perfect – rich, warming and melt in the mouth.”
What can you reveal about episode two filmed on the Thames?
MB: “A highlight from filming this episode was meeting Michel Roux. He is a legend, and very sadly passed away in March. What a memory though – we ate beautiful roast venison and you could taste the depth of the sauces.
“I also had an opportunity to be a cox [with the Henley Rowing Team]. When they suggested it I thought, ‘I’m not a good swimmer’, but then I met the wonderful girls and they briefed me on guiding the boat. I just had to shout the instructions and encourage them to do their utmost. And, as it was a competition, I was determined that we would be the winning boat – which we were!”
What is your favourite Thames recipe?
MB: “A wonderful toffee and pear pudding. It’s hot but it freezes so can be made ahead. One for all the family!”
Did it rain when you visited Ireland for episode three?
MB: “Did it rain? Yes, it did rain! That’s why the meat, butter and vegetables are so good there. Ireland has the most wonderful green fields and countryside.
“A highlight was the English Market in Cork City. I had no idea there was such a market. It’s an enormous area of the freshest fish you could ask for. There is a huge atmosphere in the market and you can buy anything you want – chicken, vegetables, bread. It was packed because people knew they would get good food!”
We heard you also travelled by sidecar?
MB: “Yes, I travelled in a sidecar along ‘the butter route’ (the 56-mile historic thoroughfare between Cork and Kerry) I’ve never known it so wet, but it didn’t matter – it was so much fun!”
Do you have a favourite Irish recipe?
MB: “Beautifully tender slow roast pork with colcannon mash. It’s a lovely country recipe and the sort of thing the Irish eat themselves.”
Tell us about your episode on comfort food – Italian style…
MB: “I met Joe and Chantelle in their pop up van making [Sicilian] dumplings. I didn’t know too much about all these dumplings, but they made several different types that were really delicious. There was a great queue at lunch time for this beautiful food!
“A favourite I make in this episode is bolognese bake with a burrata and heritage tomato. Again you can do it ahead of time, and it’s something a bit different to lasagne.”
You had some adventures in Yorkshire too?
MB: “Yorkshire was tremendous! I hadn’t been to Whitby before. They have amazing fish and chips! I went to a smokery where they make kippers. It literally was a shed, and it smelt wonderful.
“I also cooked pate in the pouring rain with the wind blowing the ingredients off the table! I actually added things in the wrong order it, but didn’t matter, it all seemed to work. There was no second take I can tell you, it was just too cold and windy!”
And finally, how was your visit to Scotland where you went dog sledging?
MB: “In Scotland I visited a woodland with a delightful forest ranger – there wasn’t anything she didn’t know about trees, animals, the future, the environment. I later met Graham and his husky dogs. I thought ‘This is going to be a bit of an adventure – I hope he’s in control!’ But like any good trainer, the dogs respected his every command and I really enjoyed my ride.”
What was your favourite Highland recipe?
MB: “Mushroom, lentil and double potato dish. It’s plant-based, it’s heart-warming, and all in one dish. The crew loved it. Mind you the crew eat everything!”