We’ve been fol­low­ing her bak­ing ad­vice for decades, but now Mary Berry is step­ping out of the kitchen. It’s time, says the for­mer Bake Off queen, that we all re­dis­cov­ered the art of turn­ing a house into a home...


Mary Berry on what makes a house a home

when the na­tion’s best-loved cook de­cides to share her house­hold tips, Good House­keep­ing needs to know about it. And when that cook is GH favourite Mary Berry, could there be a more per­fect cover star for our Jan­uary issue? She ar­rives at the shoot, as en­er­getic as ever, re­gal­ing the team with her ex­cit­ing plans for the year ahead. In Mary’s House­hold Tips &

Tricks, the na­tional trea­sure steps from be­hind the kitchen counter and casts her ex­pe­ri­enced eye across the en­tire home. She shares with us her en­ter­tain­ing and host­ing es­sen­tials, the se­crets of her 51-year mar­riage and what she really thinks of a cer­tain bak­ing show…

We’re dy­ing to ask – how did you find the new ver­sion of The Great Bri­tish Bake Off? I did seven years and loved every minute of it. But you have to go some time, don’t you? It is all about the bril­liant for­mat. All the fam­ily can watch and there’s no bad lan­guage. It has con­tin­ued in ex­actly the same for­mat and place. You just feel as though it’s con­tin­u­ing, but you’ve plucked out Mel, Sue and me. If I could have cho­sen some­one to take my place, and if they’d given me all the cook­ery writ­ers set in a row, I would have said that Prue (Leith) would be the one. The oth­ers I don’t know so well, but they’re all do­ing a good job. It’s just peo­ple get a bit crabby about the ads. The main thing about the pro­gramme is that the judges have to be fair. Paul Hollywood knows his sub­ject. He has the gim­micks: he shakes hands and does all that, and peo­ple love it.

You’re 83 in March and work­ing just as hard as ever. Are you still am­bi­tious?

I don’t have too many am­bi­tions now. I’m very lucky to still have my hus­band af­ter more than 50 years. I’m lucky to have won­der­ful grand­chil­dren. I’m full of ad­mi­ra­tion for my own chil­dren be­cause they’re all en­joy­ing what they’re do­ing.

You’ve just cel­e­brated your 51st wed­ding an­niver­sary with your hus­band, Paul. What have you learnt along the way?

It is a long time! I’m so lucky. We are very hap­pily mar­ried. I ap­pre­ci­ate him enor­mously and tell him so – which is not re­cip­ro­cated! But there we are. I don’t mind at all, be­cause he is very old-fash­ioned. I think he is quite happy with his lot. Paul is not in the slight­est bit ro­man­tic! Some very good ad­vice my fa­ther gave Paul is never to go to bed on an ar­gu­ment. Other­wise one of us – and it will be me – will be awake all night. Paul will have gone to sleep! It is much bet­ter to dis­cuss a whole sit­u­a­tion and see how you feel. I think that is very good ad­vice.

What scares you?

I shouldn’t think about it, but I can’t bear the thought of be­ing a widow. Many of my friends are now wid­ows and I’m so proud of them. It’s a scary thing.

You must love this time of year with your fam­ily… It’s a time of get­ting ev­ery­one to­gether and we all look for­ward to it. Every fam­ily has its rou­tine. One of the best things is to have a ta­ble with a jig­saw puz­zle on it. We have a new 1,000-piece puz­zle each year. We make it a peace­ful area for old and young.

Tell us your se­cret for suc­cess­ful en­ter­tain­ing Think of Christ­mas lunch as be­ing just a large fam­ily roast, drop your shoul­ders and plan it. The first thing to find out is how many peo­ple you’ve got com­ing round. Are you go­ing to have a New Year’s party? Are you hav­ing a lot of peo­ple over be­fore or af­ter Christ­mas? What does your fam­ily en­joy eating as left­overs? Ap­petites be­fore Christ­mas are rav­en­ous, but af­ter Christ­mas they’ve had enough and they won’t eat as much, so ad­just your menu. Lists are so im­por­tant – as soon as you plan what you’re go­ing to eat, they don’t half help. You can freeze things and fin­ish them off later. I love chest­nut stuff­ing. You try buy­ing frozen chest­nuts – which I think are the best – the week be­fore Christ­mas, and they’ve gone! It’s a mat­ter of go­ing early on and look­ing around the stores to see what they have to of­fer.

How early do you plan for the fes­tive sea­son?

From the end of Novem­ber. If you’ve got chil­dren, get them busy! If they are good de­sign­ers they can draw your place­mats on card­board. How­ever lit­tle they are, they can do lit­tle place names.

What’s a real fes­tive no-no?

I hate fake dec­o­ra­tions. Quite hon­estly, you can do ab­so­lute won­ders with ta­ble dec­o­ra­tions with a bit of Oa­sis foam. I al­ways buy a Nordic pine Christ­mas tree be­cause it will not drop nee­dles. When you go to buy it, there are al­ways pieces ly­ing around on the ground, so ask if you can have a few. Then col­lect a bit of ivy to make a ta­ble dec­o­ra­tion. Add some fairy lights and switch them on when you’re eating – it looks lovely.

Tell us about New Year’s Eve, Mary Berry style... We share a New Year’s party with the same six cou­ples every year. We all bring a dish. The host­ess, in the­ory, doesn’t have to do any­thing ex­cept lay the ta­ble and make it spe­cial. Peo­ple love to con­trib­ute. Other­wise you’re thinking: ‘Should I take a bot­tle of Cham­pagne? Should I make home-made bis­cuits?’ This way, you don’t have any of that. You just ar­rive with your dish. If you’re the one do­ing the main

In col­lege we were taught how to run a house. I scorned it at the time!

[con­tin­ued from pre­vi­ous page] course, it’s got to be some­thing that can just be popped in the oven. The first course is cold and the pud­ding is cold. But we make up all sorts of canapés and choco­lates, too. The next day we all go for a walk with our dogs to the pub. And if you are go­ing to a pub on New Year’s Day, for good­ness sake, book it early!

What about mak­ing ed­i­ble gifts?

They have to look good. Lake­land does very good cel­lo­phane bags and gift boxes. Let the chil­dren do the la­bels – it’s ap­pre­ci­ated so much more. Peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the time you’ve spent.

Are you dif­fi­cult to buy presents for?

I would say I have ev­ery­thing, so they don’t need to buy me any­thing. But I’m al­ways pleased to have things for the gar­den. My lot know I would love some spring-flow­er­ing cy­cla­men.

How would you de­scribe your new book?

It’s the hints and tips that I’ve gath­ered over the years. In col­lege, we were ac­tu­ally taught how to run a house. I scorned it at the time. We were taught how to make beds and that you should ar­range the pil­low with the open end away from the door. I al­ways face it that way. You know, the things your mother tells you… You take note, and then you think: per­haps I’ll fol­low her. It’s things like load­ing the dish­washer from the back, which is just com­mon sense, but it’s a mat­ter of jot­ting th­ese things down.

What else did you learn from your house­wifery course?

Half the time I was muck­ing about, but a lit­tle bit of it went in. Un­like the gen­er­a­tion that’s now com­ing up, which doesn’t iron, I do iron, and I quite like it. It’s quite use­ful to know how to change a plug and things like that. I’d rather not push it off on to some­body else.

Do you still do all your own clean­ing at home?

My hus­band tells me I’m a good scrub­ber! Re­cently, he gave me his really old suede shoes, which should be chucked out, and said ‘Can you liven th­ese up?’ So I steamed them over the ket­tle and then brushed them. I quite like clean­ing. I hate mak­ing beds, but most clean­ing I quite en­joy.

Have we lost the art of do­ing things the old-fash­ioned way?

No­body has help now, or they have very lit­tle… Work­ing mums some­times have help. Ev­ery­thing is far more in­for­mal – peo­ple don’t have din­ing rooms any more, and they all eat in the kitchen.

What really ir­ri­tates you about our cur­rent eating habits?

All th­ese fad di­ets – clean food and the like. It’s really about eating a bal­anced diet. You are what you eat. You can go to mar­kets and get all sorts of veg­eta­bles and fruit very rea­son­ably priced. Every­body wants smooth­ies, but I’d rather have the tex­ture of veg­eta­bles and fruits. If you want to have kale and spinach made into a smoothie, you have it. But for me, I just want a bal­anced diet – fruit, veg, meat and fish. And, as we get older, we tend to have smaller por­tions.

What else is im­por­tant to you?

We must re­cy­cle. Once you get into it, it’s quite fun. But you must wash all your tins out – it’s dis­gust­ing if you don’t. If you get into the habit of do­ing it every time you empty a can, you take pride in it al­most. It’s not a chore.

What makes you happy?

Many things makes me happy. A lot of things make you sad, be­cause you can do noth­ing about them, but I think I’m very lucky to have a united fam­ily, and that’s what I’m here for.

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