Berry unusual ways with cheese
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Just because a chef is famous doesn't mean they're always right – Richard Hughes delves into one of Mary Berry's lesser-known cookbooks to create some monstrous meals for a discerning diner on his doorstep.
These days, she's the Queen of Cakes, a national treasure and everyone's favourite grandmother: I admire Mary Berry hugely and what she has done for home cooking in Britain.
Berry's recipes are crowd-pleasing, wholesome and simple, all of which are the key ingredients when it comes to encouraging more people to put down the takeaway menu and head into the kitchen to cook for themselves.
Her new BBC series, Mary Berry Everyday, is a true celebration of the food and ingredients she has always loved to cook – but none of this detracts from the fact that she is responsible for one of the most terrifying and garish cookbooks filed away in the 'bizarre' section of my library: Winning Ways with Cheese.
Over almost 40 years as a chef, I have amassed a vast collection of thousands of cookery books which include a huge range of classic books and numerous tomes about practically every style of cooking and every imaginable ingredient.
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Julia Child, Paul Bocuse, Elizabeth David, Marco Pierre White, Thomas Keller, Escoffier, Larousse, Fergus Henderson, Claudia Roden, Raymond Blanc, Jane Grigson, Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse, Marcella Hazan, Robert Carrier – they're all on the shelves.
But alongside the classics are the obscure: Barbara Cartland's The Romance of Food (has any other cookery book involved a recipe where you need to soak wishbones in bleach?), Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen (who doesn't want to make Jack Daniel's Chocolate Pecan Pie from The Body Farm?), The Pyromaniac's Cookbook (there's nothing like setting a dish on fire to impress your friends) to name but three.
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And then there's Winning Ways with Cheese, published by Purnell in 1983 on behalf of the English Country Cheese Council, which sees Mary Berry championing the versatility of – well, the clue is in the title, really.
She helped to choose the recipes from 14,000 entries to the Make Your Mark with English Cheese competition, her criteria for winners being: 'Would I serve it to my family and would they like it?'
With this in mind, I decided to serve several of recipes Mary chose to the general manager of The Assembly House in Norwich, where I am chef director, Sam Matthews. Sam has a galaxy of Michelin stars under his belt – quite literally – after eating at more starred establishments than anyone else I know.
Who better to try some of Mary's book's more adventurous recipes than the man who has recently dined at the master of molecular gastronomy Heston Blumenthal's Dinner?
The only difficulty was choosing what to make Sam from a dazzling selection: should it be Aubergine Erotic (p26), Lanky Liver (p39), Patio Pate (p66), Special Cheesy Parsnips (p80), Stilton Caribbean Savouries (p83) or the deceptively-simple sounding Cheese with Crisps (p108)?
In the end, I chose three classic dishes: Haddock with Banana and Almonds, Bangers in Bunk Beds and The 'Guess What's In It' Fudge. Never let it be said that I don't treat staff well.
We served Sam the dishes while wearing a blindfold in case he saw what they were and ran away before he could sample them. I'm already bleaching wishbones in preparation for the next feast I cook for him. In answer to Mary's own criteria: no and no.
Bangers in Bunk Beds: 'It's essentially pastry covered in cheese mash with some sausages in it, isn't it? I actually quite like it, although I think our chefs might struggle to get this out in large quantities. If you have too much time on your hands and like to have pastry with your mash, this is the dish for you.'
Haddock with Banana and Almonds: 'This is…awful. I mean really horrific. I am getting the taste of fish and then a terrible sweetness – I have eaten some unusual things in my time and sometimes unusual flavour combinations really work, but this is not one of those times. If I was served this at a restaurant I would ask for my money back or just leave as quickly as possible.'
The 'Guess What's In It' Fudge: 'I don't want to guess what's in this, although I have a horrible feeling that it will be cheese. If you had ever wondered whether or not cheese tastes good if you incorporate it into fudge, I am here to tell you that it does not taste good. It does not taste good at all. I can't stress it enough: do not put cheese in fudge.'
The 'Guess What's In It' Fudge
450g icing sugar, sifted
100g English butter, softened
100g Derby cheese, finely grated
A teaspoon of vanilla flavouring
Three level tablespoons of cocoa
1) Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly using a wooden spoon
2) Lightly knead the mixture into a smooth ball
3) Divide the fudge in half and shape into two rolls, each about 35cm long. Cover with greaseproof paper and refrigerate until quite chilled
4) Cut the rolls into even slices and the fudge is then ready to eat
Mary Berry facts:
• When she was 13 in 1948, Mary fell ill with polio and spent three months in hospital. The experience, she says, 'taught me to make the most of every opportunity'
• Her first job involved showing people how to use electric ovens for the Bath Electricity Board – she tested them by making a Victoria sponge
• Mary's professional training was at Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris
• She has published more than 70 cookbooks since 1970
• Mary's son William died in a car accident when he was 19 – she has two other children, Annabel and Thomas
• A floral bomber jacket she wore on Bake Off sold out after the show aired and sold for 10 times as much as its £29.99 price tag on eBay
• She first appeared on TV in 1973 with Judith Chalmers on The Good Afternoon Show
• Mary starts every day with Marmite on toast
• Her favourite cake to bake is ginger treacle tray bake.