Mary Berry prepares for her role as 2018 Chatsworth Country Fair President
- Credit: Archant
Mary Berry talks to Pat Ashworth about why she loves the Chatsworth Country Fair
If I hadn’t feared it might sound sycophantic, I’d have told Mary Berry that even as we spoke, there was one of her Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybakes sitting in my kitchen awaiting collection for a gathering later that day. It’s the iced one scattered with stem ginger… and the joy of this and her other bakes is that you just throw all the ingredients in together and end up with a perfect result every time.
An undisputed national treasure, Mary has been part of the line-up at Chatsworth Country Fair for the last six years. This year it’s also in the capacity of President, an invitation she was delighted to accept. ‘I was honoured to be asked and very proud to be a part of it. I love it,’ she says with genuine warmth. ‘It’s just the most beautiful setting, and there’s nothing like looking out in the morning and seeing all those balloons and that sky. Everyone has a smile on their face. It’s sheer pleasure – a proper day out for everybody.’
Her acceptance of the role has delighted the organisers. ‘Mary has been a fantastic supporter for many years now,’ said Sarah Green. ‘She has been taken to the hearts of the visitors who pack out the theatre to see her deliver her pearls of culinary wisdom every time.’
There’s no treadmill of a summer circuit for Mary: Chatsworth is the only such event she does, except for something local to her home, and she does it ‘because it’s the best.’ She marvels at the continuous spectacle going on in the main ring – ‘one stunning event after another’ – and loves the fact that everybody brings their dogs – ‘There’s nothing more entertaining than all the dogs meeting each other. It’s hilarious, don’t you think?’
On arrival, she’ll go to the demonstration tent first, to check that everything is right for her. And then she’s likely to head off to the Fine Food Village, which this year will be in a particularly glorious location in front of the House. ‘I like to look around and see what ingredients there are that I can taste and that I might talk about when I do my dem – and I always do a bit of shopping,’ she says. ‘There are always new things. People are experimenting at the moment with all different kinds of salamis. Old-fashioned cuts of meat are coming back and of course there’s venison – lovely lean meat and very good for us. I can’t think of anything that isn’t there.’
The tent that is the Stoves Cookery Theatre is always ‘packed to the gunwales, with the braiding up at the sides and people leaning in,’ she says happily of the warm atmosphere that surrounds the demonstrations. She’ll be doing two on the Saturday, along with book signings. ‘If Alan Titchmarsh is there in the afternoon, I’ll be asking him to come in and we’ll have some fun and try some recipes.
‘I’m going to do a chicken recipe – the kind of thing for when people come round and you want to do a bit of a show. And a Summer Pavlova, I think… and a first course of salmon or you can use smoked trout… All I want is for people to go home and make the dishes. They’re not too complicated and they’re ones that family and friends will enjoy and perhaps add to their own repertoire.’
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She finds the Fair a very easy place to be and doesn’t at all mind being ‘tapped on the shoulder and people saying, “Oh, I make your lemon drizzle” or “I like the new programme”. I’m very privileged to have such nice people come up and talk to me,’ she says. ‘They never moan.’ And not even the weather can spoil the event, she considers, because ‘people in Derbyshire just dress for it and get on with it.’ It’s a part of the world she’d like to get to know better, family holidays having for most of her life been spent by the sea in Devon and Cornwall.
When she talks about food, you can almost taste it. We get on to the subject of scones which are ‘best served warm,’ she says unequivocally. ‘Just warm, with cream and jam. We’re the only country in the world that has clotted cream, and this is the season for making strawberry or raspberry jam – or buying a good one.’ Scones feature in the 100 recipes in her latest book, Fast Cakes – the very title of which is music to the ears of busy home bakers everywhere.
‘People say, “Fancy using a can of condensed milk!”,’ she says. ‘But it’s all made in minutes and it’s very good. And of course there’s Victoria Sponge in there and Lemon Drizzle…’ Which is where I would have mentioned the Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake but didn’t have the nerve.
On the way home, she always stops at Chatsworth Farm Shop, a place she describes as ‘an absolute eye-opener. How lucky you are to have it,’ she says. She’ll make sure she has time for a cup of coffee too, so that she can have a good think and not forget to look for some particular speciality. Altogether a wonderful weekend in a beautiful place, she says in contentment.