BAKING guru Mary Berry has unearthed the secrets of food and cooking at the Sussex stately home and estate Goodwood during a visit for her TV series Mary’s Berry’s Country House Secrets.
The former judge on the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off cooks with Susan, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon and mother to the current Duke, creates a dish that celebrates the 12,000-acre estate’s heritage and legacy, collects eggs, shears sheep, explores Goodwood Home Farm, including its butchery, and visits Goodwood motor circuit in an episode to be broadcast on December 13.
She also takes to the butler’s pantry to cook a raceday breakfast, a coq au vin and a four-tier cake for a cricket tea set in one of the oldest cricket clubs in the world.
Mary, a food writer who has published more than 75 books and studied at Le Cordon Bleu school, spends time with the Duchess, one of the earliest members of The Soil Association who ran her kitchen garden on organic principles, and they discuss the history and of food and farming at Goodwood.
“I really enjoyed spending time with Susan,” says Mary, who is 82. “She is exactly the same age as me and we reminisced about how things have changed and how we do things differently.
“I appreciate her love of animals and her efforts to take in battery chickens, nursing them back to health. What strikes me about Goodwood is that the whole house is in such pristine condition. The present Duke has done some amazing things including restoring the Egyptian Dining Room.
“Susan found the little crocodiles that were on the back of the original chairs tucked upstairs in the attic and brought them out so they could be restored. I am full of admiration for such endeavours and have loved getting to know the family a little.”
The Duke of Richmond and Gordon says, “We’re very proud of our farming heritage at Goodwood; the farm was here long before any of our big events and it has inspired our food philosophy across all of our restaurants. It was an absolute pleasure to host Mary and have her shine a light on our food story.”
During her visit, Mary was especially drawn to one particular book. “I’ve been looking through a really interesting recipe book written by the daughter of the 7th Duke of Richmond, Lady Muriel Beckwith,” says Mary. “It was inspired by her travels through France in the post-war years.
“What’s interesting is that many of the ingredients you would imagine were essential for classic French cooking simply weren’t available at the time. For example, every recipe in the book has the choice of either butter or margarine, which I thought was most odd until I realised that it was written in 1951, when butter was extremely hard to come by. She had to offer an alternative.
“It’s the same with the hollandaise sauce – because it’s after the war, she couldn’t suggest the extravagance of egg yolks and all that butter, so instead she makes a white sauce and adds egg yolks to it, which is really rather clever and it makes you appreciate how difficult it was then.
“Coq au vin is one of my favourites and in her recipe Lady Muriel suggests adding the blood to thicken it – not something I would do. However, another option is very similar to the one I do now, which is to reduce the sauce with wine. She also adds a drop of special brandy.
“The recipes are delightful – it’s fascinating to see what people were cooking at that time and how much we still cook some of these dishes from the past.”
Mary also looked at another book written by Lady Muriel called Tell Me Chef, where she writes, “In bygone times Haute Cuisine was only for a few. The modern housewife has changed this. The original recipe of a French Chef need no longer be a matter of awe.”
Mary says, “In grand country houses before the war, the lady of the house would give instructions as to what she wanted but had very little idea of how the cooking would actually be done.
“Susan, who I’ve just been cooking with, tells me that she went to a cooking school and learnt how to cook and so when she arrived here at Goodwood, she was prepared. She was really ahead of her time.
“In the past, the lady of the house wouldn’t necessarily have known how to cook – there would have been hundreds of staff to do that for her. When Susan arrived here there was very little help, and crucially she had the knowledge of a year’s training so she was at a great advantage. The cooks couldn’t tell her they had spent doing three hours cooking something if it wasn’t the case. This was true for many women: where once only a chef could produce French cuisine, suddenly it was open to everyone.”
And asked what she enjoyed the most during her visit to Goodwood, home to annual events including the Festival of Speed, Goodwood Revival and the Qatar Goodwood Festival, Mary says, “It’s very difficult to pick out a highlight. I went to a dinner during Members’ Meeting: the room was so unusual and beautiful, with grass laid out over the tables and then the wonderful surprise of motorbikes zooming through the front hall. You are in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden there’s a slight draught as the door opens and before you know what is happening a motorbike shoots past.”
Other stately homes featuring in the series includes Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey, Powderham Castle in Devon and Scone Palace in Perthshire, Scotland.
The Goodwood episode of Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets airs on BBC1 at 8pm on Wednesday December 13. Visit goodwood.com.
With thanks to Goodwood for the interview with Mary Berry.
Above: Mary Berry carries the four-tier cake she has made for the cricket tea, accompanied by Susan, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon
Main picture, top: Mary Berry with the 11th Duke of Richmond and his mother Susan, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon
Below: Mary Berry and the Duchess of Richmond and Gordon chat with the Duke of Richmond at the cricket tea
Above: Mary Berry at Goodwood
Below: a selection of the delicious treats at the cricket tea
Pictures: Nicole Hains