Mary Berry on discovering the joys of brunch and catering to unexpected guests

Even legends like Mary Berry are thrown sometimes.

“I’ve had a lot of disasters in the kitchen,” admits the 87-year-old – but she sounds so confident that you can’t imagine her being thrown off course for too long.

There are surprises for Berry in the form of her children Annabel and Thomas (her other son William died aged 19) and five grandchildren who unexpectedly show up for dinner. It seems nobody likes to call ahead.

“Family come by very often, lots of young people [people] — and then two more show up.” With a cheeky groan, he adds, “I know exactly what they’re like, and they’re very hungry.”

But she seems to enjoy being surrounded by her family — and she has a few nifty catering tricks up her sleeve when unexpected guests show up. “If it’s a big pot of something, I’ll add another can of flageolet beans or black-eyed peas or even a can of baked beans to fluff it out — which we have to do.”

Many families will be pondering ways to stretch out their meals as food and energy prices continue to rise — and Berry’s number one tip for cutting costs in the kitchen is all about prep. “I think saving on cooking is organized and planned a little bit in advance,” she says. “When people come over — relatives, friends, whatever — it’s about completing the grocery list and not deviating from it.”

Berry might seem as put together as it gets, but she wasn’t always the pinnacle of the organization. “I’ve learned that over the years,” she says – and practice makes perfect. “If I bothered, which I actually did over the weekend — I made two fried chickens, which is one of the recipes in the book. I made really good broth – really good gravy, way too much for the day, and I froze the rest. That means if you happen to have a chicken breast right now and want a sauce to go with it, you’ll have it in the freezer.

“I don’t waste anything. If there’s anything left over, I usually freeze it.”

While Berry’s style is definitely classic, she’s slowly but surely incorporating newer ingredients into her food vocabulary — thanks in large part to her family members. She says: “Right now, they’re all of an age where they eat a lot and are very keen on trying new things – so I use more of the ingredients that they like best.”

That means you’ll be seeing a lot more avocados in Berry’s recipes than before, along with other family favorites including beans, lentils and chickpeas. “They are willing to try anything,” she adds.

Many of these ingredients feature in her latest book, Cook And Share, which does exactly what it says on the tin and focuses on the “sharing food center.” Berry suggests that eating has become more relaxed, and her recipes reflect this.

“I wanted it to be more relaxed – sharing, helping yourself and still [thinking] what I can prepare,” she says. “Most people work, and they can’t always get everything done before friends come over.”

At 87, Berry shows no signs of slowing down – her new book will be accompanied by a BBC series of the same name – so she’s keen to make life easier for everyone with her recipes. “I prepare quite a bit in advance and don’t add anything until the last minute,” she says—whether that’s fresh herbs or another garnish to bring the dish to life.

Fans of Berry’s recipes won’t be disappointed with their latest offering. “There are some classic things that I’ve revisited,” she says. “We have the ultimate chocolate brownie – to die for. I’ve made a lot of brownie recipes and blondies and things like that in my time, but we’ve thrown in the ultimate chocolate brownie and a few casseroles — Sunday’s best lamb with mint is delicious… Then there’s one-pot stuff like Tuscan chicken, that is the kind of dish you can share for a very special occasion. It’s made with chicken thighs, which doesn’t matter if you overcook and people are late, it just means it’s more tender. On the other hand, if we used the breasts, it would have been difficult.”

Always a fan of the classics, Berry isn’t afraid to break new ground either, saying: “We’ve built in brunch this time because brunch seems to be very popular – especially on a Sunday morning when you have friends She adds, “Maybe they don’t necessarily want to do a roast — they do brunch because everyone gets up a little later and it’s a nice meal to share.”

Berry may see the appeal of brunch, but that doesn’t mean she’s completely abandoned her Sunday routine. “It’s still the Sunday roast in our family,” she admits. “But of course this summer was so warm that we often went for brunch instead.”

Cook And Share by Mary Berry is available in hardcover from BBC Books priced at £27. Photography by Laura Edwards. Now available.

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