Over eight decades, Mary Berry has seen food fads come and go. And the latest one – kale – she deals with in typically firm fashion writes Kate Whiting
NO, I don’t like it and I see it everywhere. I grew a new kale, which was rather big and a dark colour, and it looked so pretty in the garden. Then I started to cook it and it was so strong and bitter. I know it’s good for us, but I’d prefer to grow land cress, or something a little bit different.”
But Mary Berry – who grew up with rationing, turned 80 in March and has written more than 70 cookery books since the late Sixties – is softer on other ‘new’ ingredients, including the basil she grows in the garden of her beautiful Buckinghamshire home.
“When I trained and when I was a housewife, I automatically used dried herbs. You couldn’t get fresh ones in a supermarket, you could grow them but people didn’t know quite how to do it.
“Basil was something you only got in France, and now we sow basil in the garden in May and we’ve got it in the garden from late June onwards. We make our own pesto. Things have certainly changed, and this is the joy of new ingredients. I can remember when butternut squash was new, and we all thought, ‘Butternut squash?!’ But we love it now.
“We also grow fennel,” adds Berry, who makes a fennel slaw in her latest book, Absolute Favourites, which accompanies her new BBC Two show.
“My husband says, ‘What are you putting fennel in? We didn’t have it [as children], my mother didn’t do it!’ I say, ‘Hard luck, you’re going to have it!’
“I really enjoy fennel, I’ve worked out how to cook it. People say it tastes of aniseed, but it doesn’t; if you cook it, it’s just the most beautiful vegetable. If you finely slice it and marinate it as the base of the salad, it gives the most beautiful flavour, you’ve just got to convert people to it.
“But I’m never going to convert them to kale, because I think it will come and go, personally. There are certain things I will not do, because I don’t like it myself.”
She’s certainly not a fan of deep fat