Mary McCartney at Liverpool Cricket Club as she signs copies of her new book
Dawn Collinson talks to Mary McCartney about her new cookbook
TESTIMONIES to Sir Paul McCartney’s musical genius are hardly in short supply, but to his cooking skills? Considerably less so.
In fact there may just be the one, affectionately offered by his daughter Mary.
It turns out Sir Paul has quite a deft hand in the kitchen, although he knows his place in the great scheme of McCartney culinary job-sharing.
“Dad can cook, he likes to make the lasagne out of mum’s first cookbook, and he makes a very good mashed potato,” she reveals. “If we’re all having Sunday lunch, he’s in charge of mash. He doesn’t put any special ingredients into it, I think it’s just because he takes the time; he mashes it and then spends ages whipping it with a fork ... and he’s not shy with the butter either.”
Photographer Mary, the eldest of Paul and Linda’s three children together, is very much at home discussing both family and food.
They are two elements which feature strongly in her life, and which merge beautifully in her new vegetarian cookbook, Food.
The book, a year in the making, is punctuated with photographs from the 42-year-old’s personal album. They date back to her childhood, an evidently relaxed and unpretentious time despite the external furore of fame, to present day and her own four boys.
But more than the grainy illustrations, she says, it is the recipes contained within which evoke most memories.
“I grew up around food, my mum was an enthusiastic cook and she got into cooking by being in the kitchen when she was young,” says Mary.
“At home she didn’t want to be cooking on her own so the kitchen had a nice table in it, that was the hub of everything, and everyone used to come in and hang out or help chop things.
“As we got older we started cooking things for her and it was fun, because she’d request something that she fancied, like a pesto sauce or the corn fritters in the book which she loved.
“We didn’t have cooks in our house, we grew up very much with my mum’s home-cooking and we did things together. It was always informal and nice.”
The family, of course, were all brought up as vegetarians and she recalls her parents often having discussions about ways to create inventive dishes.
But it was their varied heritage which really influenced meals most. Linda had a repertoire of American favourites like brownies and blueberry pancakes, while Mary’s stepgrandmother was French American.
“She taught me about oven thermometers and about pastry and measuring more, whereas mum was very informal and instinctive,” says Mary.
The Liverpudlian side of things was rather less cordon bleu, she admits.
“I remember scouse being on the stove at my Auntie Gin’s and thinking ‘what’s that?’ but it had the lard on the top so it didn’t really appeal to me,” she laughs. “For me, Liverpool food is more about having chips out of the paper ... about coming up here and going to the chippy!
“I do love chips, the little crunchy ones that are probably the worst for you.”
The one downside to Linda’s casual approach to cooking was there were few recipes actually written down, says Mary.
So when she was approached to do the book while promoting Meat Free Monday with her dad and sister Stella – another excellent cook, Mary confirms – she wasn’t initially too keen.
It was her husband, director Simon Aboud, who convinced her it would be a good idea.
“Then all the homework began,” she laughs.
She had to rely on memory to recall ingredients, trying out recipes on friends before photographing each one for publication.
“I cooked each dish and used it as a way of testing things out,” she says. “I’d invite someone over for lunch, make something and then photograph it. There was no varnishing the food or anything like that, I shot them all in natural available daylight, and I borrowed lots of cutlery from a friend who has a vintage shop because you can’t have the same fork in every photo.”
Food photography, she adds, was a departure from her regular, more animated, subjects – her celebrity portraiture has captured Lily Cole, Kate Moss and Helen Mirren amongst others – but an interesting one nevertheless.
“I do like variety, it’s nice to do something completely different, so doing the cookbook has given me that,” she says.
“I’m glad I did it, I did really enjoy it, and one of the reasons for that is because food can be so nostalgic. I’d think of a recipe and remember the first time I learned how to make it, or where we were when mum made it for us. I can still picture her teaching me how to make French toast for the first time, which was the easiest thing even though it looked quite complicated.
“I do like to remember my mum like that. It can be sad, obviously, but she was such a unique, strong, funny, quirky character that I can imagine what she would say about things. I have such wonderful memories of her and I think she’d be proud of the book and hopefully quite impressed. It’s a nice memory of her and very much inspired by her style.”
Since they lost Linda to breast cancer in 1998, Mary and the rest of the family have continued to be hands-on with her vegetarian food range. They are involved too in the Linda McCartney Centre, the cancer unit at Liverpool’s Royal Hospital opened two years after her death.
In Liverpool for a book event organised by House Beauty Spa in Allerton, Mary spent time at the centre on a private visit, chatting to patients and staff.
“I don’t get up here very often, but I’ve been reconnecting and I’m definitely going to be here more in future,” she says. “My husband was born in Clatterbridge, he’s a Wirralite, and I’ve got loads of family here obviously. I always used to say when I was a kid that I was half Liverpudlian and half American, even though I don’t have the accent.”
Everyone, of course, wants to talk about Sir Paul when she’s here. But Mary doesn’t mind, she is generous with family anecdotes and happy to talk about what it’s like to call a Beatle dad.
“I see my dad in two very different ways,” she smiles. “When it’s family, it’s family, and when he tries to tell a story everyone talks over him. Then when he’s on stage I think, wow. He’s pretty amazing.”
Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking by Mary McCartney is published by Chatto & Windus, priced £20.