In case you haven’t heard (Really? You didn’t know?), a new series of The Great British Bake-Off starts tonight, and quite frankly, it’s a relief as I’ve been suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms of late. You know the type of thing – accusing random strangers of having soggy bottoms, critiquing the beans on toast Boy About Tech has made me in the manner of Paul Hollywood, knitting tank tops so I can dress just like last year’s baking hottie James Morton…
Anyway, in celebration of the show’s triumphant return, I’ve managed to grab an interview with star judge Mary Berry, or Bezza, as she’s affectionately known to Mel, Sue and Paul. Enjoy – preferably with a cup of tea and a slice of cake baked to one of Mary’s epic recipes!
Girl About Tech: How did your career in cooking start?
Mary Berry: I didn’t enjoy maths or English at school but I found that I loved my cooking classes. It seemed a natural career path to follow. So I went to college to study catering.
GAT: You eventually became a cookery writer here at Ideal Home, but that wasn’t your first job?
MB: No, my first job was as a Home Service Advisor for the South Western Electricity Board in Bath. At the time, if you bought an electric cooker you could ask for a home visit from someone who would show you how it worked. I demonstrated English Electric cookers – double ovens built-in at eye level and all brand new – and also the Belling 47AB, which was one of the first ovens with glass inner door so you could see what was cooking inside without spoiling the food.
GAT: But now you’re more famous for your love of AGAs…
MB: I do adore my AGA, and I think everybody’s got a reason why they love theirs. I remember when the boys were young and they used to wear football shirts, but they’d always want ‘the green one’ to wear the next day. So you would wash it and if you were very clever you would fold it on top of the Simmering Plate and it would be ‘ironed’ in the morning.
I also recall years ago my husband taking our dog for a walk – it was very early in the morning so he didn’t meet any people! Anyway, he picked up a duck egg on the green, brought it home and announced that he’d like it for breakfast. I replied “you can’t possibly have it for breakfast because there’s a little duckling inside it”. He looked at me as though I was mad, while I went off to my friend, who lived on a farm nearby, and told her I wanted to hatch it. ‘Oh she said, (at this point Mary adopts excellent Welsh accent) ‘all you need to do is put it in a warm place’, so I popped it in the Aga, and soon enough, it hatched!
GAT: So what do you like to cook in it?
MB: I make the very best shortbread in my AGA, and it’s excellent at tarts. When we make tarts on the Bake Off, we normally bake them blind and then add the filling and bake it again. But with an AGA you don’t have to. Just whack it in the bottom of a roasting oven and there’ll be no soggy bottoms!
I don’t have a wok – I use my biggest frying pan that’s non stick, with a nice big base, and it covers the whole plate and I can cook really fast – I can beat anybody. But it’s equally brilliant at slow roasts – a joint of pork with some crisp crackling and fluffy potatoes.
GAT: So you’re not planning to ditch it for a new Dual Control version any time soon?
MB: Another wonderful thing about AGAs is that they never wear out. The lovely chaps at AGA keep telling me that people with an oil-fired model would do well to swap it for a Dual Control, but a great girl friend that lives down the road from me has an AGA that’s 75 years old and still in perfect working order – and she does more entertaining than I do. I don’t think you’ll convince her.
GAT: Do you have any other favourite cooking gadgets?
MB: I also like a freestanding mixer for their speed, a good processor like a Magimix, and I can always rely on my Braun hand-held mixer. It’s really useful for soups and quickly pureeing things.
GAT: How do you listen to music?
MB: I’m a little old-fashioned. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and Radio 2, and I love my Roberts radio.
GAT: Are you a keen photographer?
MB: Quite the opposite – I’m no good with a camera.
GAT: What piece of tech could you not live without?
MB: That would have to be the heated seats in my car! I feel the cold so, whatever the weather, I put the heated seats on full blast as soon as I get in!
And now for the quick-fire round:
Induction or gas hob? MB: Gas
Microwave or steam oven? MB: Microwave
LPs or MP3s? MB: Neither
Mac or PC? MB: PC, but I’m not very good with one
Twitter or Facebook? MB: I’d prefer a hand-written letter in the post