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Last week, I reviewed The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and shared two of my A to Z posts: B is for Bletchley Park and E is for Enigma. Tina reviewed A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy, a collection of short stories — Tina recommends that readers new to Binchy start with one of her novels, instead.
I recently learned that I have access to four short series that feature Mary Berry as the host, using my PBS Passport. I first encountered Mary Berry in the early seasons of The Great British Baking Show on PBS and Netflix.
These newer shows are a kind of cross between documentary and cooking show, each enhancing the other.
In each of the four episodes of Country House Secrets, Mary Berry visits a different country house. She learns about the local dishes and is inspired by them to create some of her own.
The first, Highclere Castle, will be familiar to most of us. Highclere Castle plays Downton Abbey on TV. We get a little about Downton Abbey, but more about the real history of Highclere Castle. And we get to attend a fancy dinner party.
Scone Palace in Scotland was the location for the second episode of Country House Secrets. I knew about the Stone of Scone from the film Stone of Destiny, but I’m not sure that I knew that there was a palace associated with it. This one also features a fancy dining opportunity, Scottish-style, with bagpipes and reels. Mary Berry, it turns out, is half-Scottish, so she fits right into the action.
I think I enjoyed the third episode the most. I’ve never heard of Powderham Castle, but I was completely charmed. Unlike many British castles, this one looks like it could be in a fairy tale, complete with crenellated walls and towers. I also enjoyed the modern family who currently lives in and cares for Powderham Castle. The current Earl of Devon married American actress, A. J. Langer. They raised their two children in the US before moving to England permanently in 2014.
The final episode was at Goodwood House which has a unique way of supporting itself — with racetracks for cars and horses, plus a ground for playing cricket. They have also been innovators in the area of food. Under the Duchess’s influence and a daughter’s direction, the estate is a leader in organic agricultural production.
Given that we’re approaching Easter, I also watched the two-episode series, Mary Berry’s Easter Feasts. In it, Mary Berry shares her personal experience of loss and how her religion sustains her. She shares a cake with the Archbishop of Canterbury and cooks lamb with the Archbishop of York. But she goes way beyond her own Church of England to find out how other Christian traditions celebrate Easter and what foods are traditional. This being Britain, she has lots of communities available to make contributions to broaden her understanding of the Easter feast. I enjoyed learning about a fish dish from Jamaica, deviled eggs from Russia that are red on the outside (from beetroot) and topped with caviar, and colomba di Pasqua — an Italian cake baked in the shape of a dove.
I haven’t shared with Weekend Cooking in a long time, but this show seems just perfect for people who appreciate food this Easter Weekend.
There are still two more Mary Berry series to enjoy — Simple Comforts and Absolute Favorites. PBS also has a stand-alone Christmas special: Mary Berry’s Country House at Christmas. I’ll try to remember to watch that at the appropriate season.