Recipe for Life: The Autobiography, by Mary Berry

Nine stars


No journey, especially one of biographies, is complete without some light fare along the way, which is amply provided with this memoir by Mary Berry. For those who are not familiar with this most splendid woman, she has come to be known as the Queen of Cookery in Britain, though her journey to that pedestal was highly entertaining and captivating in a life filled with twists. Born into a modest family, Berry was the middle of three children and the only girl. With a father who served as the Mayor of Bath, Berry was often left to the fought and tumble ways of her brothers, admitting that she was a tomboy for the early years of her life. A close knit family home provided Berry with the love she needed to succeed, though she was a horrible student and failed most every class she took in school, save Domestic Science. With an aptitude for all things cooking, she was able to study a little at a local college, soon leading to a number of interesting jobs and the chance to study for a month at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, a story that will both shock and entertain the reader. Berry soon married Paul Hunnings, a rugby star who made an honest woman out of her at the ripe age of thirty-one. Still working and setting up house after her marriage, Berry entertains the readers with many vignettes, including making her own wedding cake and a cold honeymoon spent fishing before announcing the expansion of her family, both with children and interesting pets. Thomas, William, and Annabelle would soon be mini-Marys in the kitchen to help their mum before growing up and branching off into their own careers. From there it was moving to television cookery and a slew of cookbooks to accompany her weekly shows, having learned it is best to be an independent freelancer than being stuck to any one job. Berry excelled and laid the groundwork for her future as a television star on all things cookery. Her personal advice is to keep things simple enough that the viewer can relate to what is being prepared. The reader is taken on a wonderful journey as Berry explores her numerous shows, workshops, and the eventual arrival of her celebrity chef status when she agreed to judge on The Great British Bake Off, surprised by its complete success. Anyone who has not seen the original Bake Off will have to tune in, as it is a marvel how a quaint woman can stand amongst Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay while holding her own. Brilliant in its delivery and warm nature, Mary Berry captures the reader with her honesty and motherliness.

It was a great friend of mine who introduced me to Mary Berry, at least through the television. The Great British Bake Off has been a deeply-rooted staple of BBC programming for a handful of years. She is affable and, like the grandmother we all wished we had, proves approachable as long as she is impressed. Peeling back some of the upper crust nature for which she is so well known, Berry offers up a wonderful insight into her life. Told in a frank and humorous manner, without the need to ‘tell all’ or smear anyone (she goes so far as to refuse to discuss past relationship, as some of these men are still alive!), Berry shows how she carved her niche as a working woman in the early 1960s and used a passion she developed when academics did nothing to support her. Berry is insightful throughout, commenting on the lack of foundation in the education system (where some subjects remain mandatory and yet are never used while the basics of cooking and sewing are glossed over). With straightforward chapters that include a number of personal asides by people about whom she refers. Perhaps the most ‘Mary Berry’ aspect of the memoir is the collection of simple recipes for the reader to attempt at the end of each chapter, in which Berry seeks to instil her love of cookery and its simplicity in the busy grinds of the everyday. Even if that includes using something as peculiar as the AGA oven (I know… I am still baffled!), Berry wants the reader and anyone who comes across something with which she is associated to feel comfortable in the kitchen and their own apron. I know I will be the next time I try a cake, pudding, or pie!

Kudos, Lady Berry! You have such a way with words and sentiments, perfectly baked and crisp, which just the right amount of ebullient topping to keep me hooked. How I will miss you on Bake Off!