Mary Norwak: Renowned Norfolk cookery writer

A great Norfolk advocate of wholesome country cooking and thoroughly good food, cookery author Mary Norwak from Cley, has died aged 81.

She wrote more than 100 cookery books and thousands of articles for magazines and newspapers in a career which started more than half a century ago.

Her collection of 4,000 cookery books, including 50 hand-written volumes of recipes, nearly filled her north Norfolk home overlooking the marshes.

When the Prince of Wales visited Cley in March 1976, she was the obvious choice to bake a cake for the 70th anniversary of the Norfolk Naturalists' Trust (now Norfolk Wildlife Trust). And Prince Charles duly obliged by cutting a slice.

Her 40th cookery book, East Anglian Recipes – 300 Years of Housewife's Choice, was just one of three published in the same week in 1978.


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Born in London in 1929, she went to Haberdashers' Aske's school. She started writing about fashion for trade magazines. Her passion for colour and design led to a move to Vogue.

She married John Norwak, who worked in advertising in London. The family moved to Debden, Essex, before buying a remote farmhouse near Thaxted – half a mile from the road and without electricity. And she couldn't drive.

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When her husband became ill, they bought the Fountain Bookshop, Saffron Walden, to avoid commuting to London. When she was widowed at 36, with three children under eight, she rose to the challenge.

She was itching to write again. 'I could write about cookery which was something I had loved from the time I was eight,' she said in 1978, three years after moving to Cley.

In 1956, the Lady magazine accepted a contribution and then Farmer's Weekly, which swiftly made her cookery editor for the next 13 years.

She was cookery editor of the Daily Express, and wrote for The Times and The Guardian. Her book on home-freezing was one of the first to be published.

Her knowledge of food was renowned and she always helped writers and chefs and also advised the BBC on Mr Pickwick's gluttonous tastes for a drama. Another book, English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury remains one of the best to this day.

She loved a challenge and even cooked a coypu, trapped on Cley marshes, for Anglia Television.

She helped many groups including the British Red Cross and Norfolk Society. A leading member of the WI, she served Cley institute as secretary and president. In 1987, she was vice-chairman of the county federation.

For many years, she was a churchwarden at St Margaret's, Cley, and was secretary to the parochial church council. She loved living in Cley but never set foot on its legendary marshes. A keen member of Cley Amateur Dramatic Society, she was a village correspondent for the North Norfolk News.

She leaves three children, Sophie, Matthew and Unity and seven grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at St Margaret's Church, Cley, on Friday, October 15 at 2.30pm.

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