Mary Berry’s 7 lessons in dining

From updating old favourites to how to host the perfect dinner party – the TV chef shares her secrets…

Classic Mary Berry (BBC, EH)

Mary Berry, 82, moved to France at 21 to train at Le Cordon Bleu Paris and went on to run Aga workshops and write over 75 recipe books. She first appeared on TV in the 1970s but her on-screen career really took off when she became one of the judges on The Great British Bake Off in 2010. The queen of cakes, with over 60 years of cooking under her belt, here’s what Berry has learnt about food – and how we eat now.

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Food trends are just that

Avocado on toast (Getty, EH)
(Getty)

It’s very fashionable now to prepare avocado on toast. I can remember when we didn’t have them at all — now they’re everywhere. But this isn’t one of the nicest things to do with them. Better to add them to a prawn cocktail or to a little plate of smoked salmon or shrimps. And I love prawn cocktail — it’s so retro! Do it in a glass, with a little gem lettuce leaf. People used to laugh at prawn cocktail because it felt dated, but it’s coming back.

Updating old favourites

I cook some of the dishes that I’ve always cooked, but I’ve changed the way I cook them. In the old days I would have used a big dollop of dripping to make a cottage pie but now I wouldn’t — it’s just extra fat. I just fry the meat in its natural fat and put a tiny bit of oil around the outside of the pan. I like making pies, but I used to put pastry on the base. I certainly don’t now — on top is enough for me.

I’ll go so far…

Quinoa (Getty, EH)
(Getty)

I use things like kale these days, which I never used to. We’re eating all sorts of quinoa and grains that we didn’t eat years ago (although I can’t do with too much brown rice), and it’s jolly nice to have so much fresh produce around. But you go through different stages of people suggesting different diets, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Bring back the dumpling!

There are a few dishes I’d love to make popular again. My first choice would be dumplings — they used to be huge! I’d do horseradish dumplings or herb dumplings. And people have forgotten about kedgeree, too, which I love.

Deep-fried food?

Fish and chips (Getty, EH)
(Getty)

Not in my house… The place to have deep-fried food is if you go to a fish and chip shop, or you go out for dinner — restaurants do things like chicken Kiev very well, so let them deal with the smell in the kitchen. Most kitchen fires are caused by chip pans, unless you’ve got an electric one, so it’s just one of the things I never do. When it comes to “instant” food I can honestly say I never used Smash or Angel Delight — but I did made junket and jellies. I still make jelly for my grandchildren — they love it. There’s nothing wrong with it at all.

The perfect dinner party

The way people cook and entertain has changed — and the way I do has, too. I’m asked all the time what one can do ahead of time, what can be frozen and how to make things easier. People are out of the home more and they want to make something the day before, pop it in the freezer and be organised. When I’m entertaining I make sure I do something that won’t be ruined if people arrive half an hour late. Slow roasted lamb, beef, pork, a casserole — they’re all delicious. I will cook it on the day but will have already marinated the meat and made the sauce to go with it ahead of time.

I nearly always do a cold first course — like a little platter of quail eggs and salmon — that I can get ready earlier in the day. And I always make the puds, like banoffee pie or crème brûlée, ahead of time. I don’t want the hassle on the night — I like to be able to talk to my guests.

The other big difference today is that we have to ask about allergies. That never used to happen, you just cooked whatever you wanted to. You have to respect that people need different meals now.

I like to keep it simple

Classic Mary Berry (BBC, EH)
Classic Mary Berry (BBC)

The way I cook might have changed, but I present my food just like I used to. Serving food on slate tiles? Oh, no — that’s all very gimmicky. And I don’t like it when a plate is zigzagged with sauce across it or dropped in little blobs in circles. I like simple dishes and I’m not worried about things that seem old-fashioned. If it’s a lovely dish, why not make it?

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Classic Mary Berry is on Monday 26th February at 8:30pm on BBC1