Prue Leith: Everyone’s waiting for me to make another Bake Off gaffe

16 December 2017

9:00 AM

16 December 2017

9:00 AM

Edinburgh is a peach of a city, is it not? Last week, I walked up to the castle on a crisp and sunny morning. Crossing high above the railway line, I watched the trains slink out of Waverley station and snake along the valley floor, a giant Hornby set beneath my feet. The path to the castle is tarmacked and rough, but still slippery with morning frost, so I tread carefully as I follow the zigzag to stand under the castle walls at the top. A young man next to me breathes: ‘Awesome, man.’ Absolutely. And the more so when you think the volcanic plug on which the castle stands is riddled with passages dug to hold Napoleonic POWs.

The view is awesome too. It always surprises me how frequently you glimpse the Firth of Forth from the city. The buildings, the firth and the land are often grey, but today the water is blue and beyond it the Kingdom of Fife and Burntisland (Burnt Island to the Scots) is bright green. The middle ground is festive: on Princes Street there’s a Christmas ferris wheel sharing space with the gothic Scott memorial, and a terrifying merry-go-round that swings couples strapped into chairs round on the ends of cables. As they whirl, the bit that attaches them to a central pole rises until they are eight floors up. ‘What if they throw up?’ I think.

Who would have thought eating cake could bring one so much attention? Since my ghastly gaffe in revealing The Great British Bake Off winner, every quiz and comedy show invites me to join them to make a further ass of myself; McVitie’s, on hearing me say I didn’t care for Jaffa Cakes, sends me a box of them re-labelled Prue; I’m presented with wild necklaces and colourful glasses, and I get asked for selfies. Friends ask, don’t you hate that? No, I don’t. I guess if I were really famous, and couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed, it would be horrible. But at my level, it’s flattering. And rather encouraging.

I’d never have thought that writing recipes would lose me sleep. In the distant past, I wrote cookery all the time. But for the past 25 years I’ve been writing novels, and had no thought of returning to food. But all those bakers have got me fired up again and last week the Daily Mail published 40 or so recipes by me in various pull-outs for Christmas. I know every one of them works. The Mail’s cookery editor, its home economist, my PA and I have all checked and tested them over and over again. But I keep dreaming I’ve forgotten to tell the cook when to turn the oven on, or worse, when to take the turkey out.

So here we are with another royal wedding. I’m slightly ashamed of myself for soppily poring over pictures of the happy couple, and wanting to believe in happy-ever-after in spite of the evidence. With the exception of Her Maj and Prince Philip, our royals’ much-hyped fairy tales have mostly turned to grief. Spare a thought for long-dead Princess Margaret. If only today’s more liberal attitudes had come 60 years earlier, she might have been allowed to marry divorcee Group Captain Townsend. And had they come 100 years earlier, Edward VIII’s marriage to divorcee Wallis Simpson might not have cost him his crown.

On the home front, it’s all mud. We are planting an orchard with the help of tree buff Andrew Howard, who knows everything about ancient pippins and 15th-century pears, and about more varieties of damson, quince and greengage than this world dreams of. Or indeed than we need to know. Fascinating as it is, we have to get the trees in the ground before their poor bare roots are frosted. So I nag while husband John delves. He has a couple of guys with him and they squelch through the mud, dig holes echoing the shape of the roots to be planted and twice the size of a bucket, then prod drainage holes in the bottom, settle the roots comfortably, tuck them in with soil and compost (laboriously sifted so it won’t clod into lumps and refuse to drain), surround the juvenile trunk with a piece of plastic drainage pipe to prevent strimmer-damage, and then a soft fleecy guard to stop the bunnies eating it, then a stake to hold it steady, and finally a bark mulch to deter the weeds. And next summer it will be water, water, water and feed, feed, feed. And a massive programme of sowing, weeding, feeding, and avoiding all chemicals with the hope of achieving a wild-flower meadow between the trees. And can you believe it, it now seems we need a deer fence to keep the muntjac out. I thought trees looked after themselves.

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