Mary Berry tucks into Goodwood's food heritage

20th November 2017

In her new BBC1 TV programme Country House Secrets, Mary Berry spends time with the Duke of Richmond and his family, delving into the history of food and entertaining at Goodwood. We caught up with her in between takes…

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GW: Mary, you have seen great changes in your lifetime. How do you think country house dining has changed at Goodwood over the years? 

During my time at Goodwood I’ve been looking through a really interesting recipe book written by the daughter of the 7th Duke of Richmond, Lady Muriel Beckwith. 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.

We’re interested in what the animals eat...if they have a good life, the actual food at the end of the line tastes an awful lot better. I have seen first-hand how important this is at Goodwood.

Mary Berry

GW: In another book written by Lady Muriel called ‘Tell Me Chef’, 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.” How do you think the role of women in cooking changed over the last century?

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, Duchess of Richmond, 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. They 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.

GW: What, to you, is proper English cooking?

I think the biggest change we have seen in British cooking over the last few years is a growing desire to know where our food comes from. We’re interested in what the animals eat, where they are kept and how stressed they are. If they have a good life, the actual food at the end of the line tastes an awful lot better. I have seen first-hand how important this is at Goodwood. The farm here is organic throughout – and this really is the way things are going. This, of course, would have been the way things were always done – before the War and farming methods changed it.

GW: Is there any kind of dish that sums up England for you?

I always think of Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding as being the classic British dish.  

Interestingly, 30 years ago everybody fast roasted a leg of lamb but now we’re all cooking the cheaper cuts very, very slowly so that they become tender. I much prefer to slow-roast as produces such delicious-tasting meat, and of course this is exactly what Goodwood is doing at Farmer, Butcher, Chef.


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GW: Do you have a favourite lesser-known cut of meat?

I know cheek is a new cut that everyone is slow cooking and people are using the forequarter of beef much more, which lends itself to this way of cooking.

Old fashioned handle or spring of pork (the upper part of the pig's foreleg - usually boned and rolled as a joint) is also so much better slow-cooked so it melts in the mouth.

GW: What have you enjoyed the most while you’ve been at Goodwood?

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 draft as the door opens and before you know what is happening a motorbike shoots past.

I really enjoyed spending time with Susan, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon. 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 Goodwood Episode of Mary Berry's "Country House Secrets" is due to be aired on Sunday, February 2nd on BBC Two, at 11.30am.

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