There’s something about Mary


Fledgling WI Judges weigh up the perfect cake as part of stringent tests to earn their judging badge certifiable. They as being assessed in the Livingstone Room, Denman College

Judging cake is a serious business. We’ve all seen Calendar Girls. The self-crucifying repercussions of taking short cuts down M&S’ sponge aisle to claim the glory of a home win is a nod to the unwaivering regulations in place at real life village and county shows across the UK, brought in to measure fair play for both the home producer and the white-coated judge. The picture above (circa 1950s) is one of my all-time favourites, depicting members of the Women’s Institute in training to become certified WI Cookery Judges under the watchful eye of the WI Trainer. Their bible-like reference manual, the Produce Guild Guide and Handbook, underwent several interpretations and revisions over the years and is now known as ‘On with the Show’ which, if you’re thinking of putting your best loaf forward this summer, is a pretty invaluable place to start for show-perfect produce. I wax on about this here.

‘Everyone enjoys a cake competition’ said McDougalls Flour, which in the 1950s, provided readers of women’s magazines with the necessary recipes, diplomas of merit and prize money to run their very own cake competitions between neighbours, friends and colleagues. Little has changed today. Along with the self-regulated show tents, the fast-action rise of home baking across the UK has brought with it an army of amateur baking clubs and ‘bake-offs’ as rogue office desks groan under the weight of cake stands, Tupperware boxes and inconspicuous-looking foil-wrapped parcels. Depending where you work, this is mostly a delicious exercise in procrastination but like any contestant on the BBC’S The Great British Bake Off, be prepared to take the heat. Free from the shackles of judging certificates and show seasons, this may be the only chance Mike in Accounts gets to flex his muscle until the next available Tax Year.

No, if anyone could rate my Lemon Drizzle Cake, it’d be Mary Berry. With over 60 years of baking experience and 70 cookery books under her tiny belt, Mary really is the fairy godmother of home-baking and the perfect mentor for a nation of aspiring bakers. Two years ago I met her at the WI Cookery School as she demonstrated a fresh but classic raft of Christmas recipes in her indomitably warm and gentle style. The audience knew they were in safe hands. Having learnt the art of baking from her mother, Mary quickly established herself as a leading cookery writer and broadcaster, specialising in Aga cookery, cakes and desserts. She now appears on screen ‘scrutinising’ – in the kindest, most tactful and constructive of ways – to a nervous kitchen-ful of bakers on the GBBO.

Along with her partner in crime, Paul Hollywood, Mary will be appearing at Cake International – The Sugarcraft, Cake Decorating and Baking Show – two events which are set to take place at EventCity, Manchester (8-10 March) and London’s ExCel (12-14 April). Mary will be opening both shows, meeting fans in a q+a session and revealing her top tips and inspirations in the Baking Theatre.


The Vintage Cake Spot has five pairs of tickets to each show up for grabs! To win a pair, email with your favourite family cake, bread, biscuit or pudding recipe and what it means to you. Watch this space for a delicious Mary Berry recipe coming soon…

For more information on the shows, which include over 80 international exhibitors, demonstration theatres and ‘A taste of sugar mini-workshops’ for junior bakers, visit

Published in: on January 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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