Life in lockdown for Doncaster's Great British Bake Off star
“We are living through history, never before have I been made to stay isolated for 12 weeks.”
Like millions across the world, 2016 Great British Bake Off contestant Val Stones is isolating at home during the coronavirus pandemic and coming to terms with life in lockdown.
The former Conisbrough resident, whose delicious cakes and bakes earned her the title ‘the cake whisperer’, is classed as ‘vulnerable’ due to her age and has been following government guidelines not leave the house or see family.
But it seems Val’s age and upbringing have stood her in good stead for life in lockdown.
Val, aged 70, says: “There are of course positive aspects of being a senior citizen. I was born just after the Second World War and grew up in a household where ‘make-and-mend’ and ‘waste not want not’ were key mottos.
“My mum and grandmas baked bread daily and they grew their own fruit and vegetables.
“My dad took us for long walks at the weekends and taught us woodcrafts - including what wild foods could be gathered and eaten.
“Most of all I was able to pick up on the tips for money saving food preparation. These early skills are serving me well now.
“Thank goodness for social media though, so I can keep in touch with my family in so many ways.”
In fact, it was Val’s upbringing in Conisbrough where she first discovered her love of baking.
She says: “I grew up in the 1950s - a time where everyone baked, and cooked, from scratch.
“I loved watching my mum, nana and aunts working together in the kitchen, both for their companionship and for their way of working together.
"From the age of just three, I was amazed by the magic that happened when ingredients were mixed together, how they were then shaped and placed into an oven, and how they would come out as something delicious to eat.
“Cooking is a great hobby.
“When I was a headteacher, I baked every Thursday evening for my staff, taking the bakes into school the next day for Friday treats in the staffroom.
“Generally, I have found that whatever stress I have been under, or around, baking soon puts me into a relaxed zone.”
Val, who now lives in Somerset, never dreamed her love of baking would land her a place on Britain’s best loved baking show.
Speaking about the process of making it onto our TV screens in 2016, she says: “It takes 12 weeks of tasks, challenges and jumping through hoops to be chosen for The Great British Bake Off.
“There were bakes, all of our own choice, to be made, and the ones I made were to really show them I was a risk taker.
“I did an incredibly memorable decorated King Cake, and then my famous sausage rolls, as anyone who tastes them falls in love with them.
“There were a lot of interviews - including some to camera. When they were finally down to the last 150, I had to take two specific bakes to London and then, do a technical challenge bake in a mock-up tent setting.
“I managed to throw flour all over a camera person that day and thought I wouldn’t be chosen.”
Val became one of the stand out stars of the 2016 show and even became known as ‘the cake whisperer’ thanks to her unique style.
Val says: “When you bake, you use your eyes, nose, touch and ears throughout the process. There will be a specific scientific explanation as to the noises a bake makes, as the heated ingredients react with each other when they’re in the oven but, simply put, the noisier the bake, the more it needs baking.
“I always put my ear to the bake – often burning my cheek - and listen.
“It’s possible to judge how many more minutes something needs by the noisiness.
“I was christened ‘the cake whisperer’ after my first appearance on Bake Off after being shot listening to my sponges.
“The next day in the media, that was my new name.”
And does Val have any tips for residents across the borough who have taken up baking in a bid to keep busy during lockdown?
“There are only two ways to become a confident baker,” she says, “just to bake – practice makes perfect – and to start simple. For example, start with recipes that don’t have too many ingredients, or a complicated method. A classic Victoria sponge filled with a jam and dashed with icing sugar is a good place to start.”
As well as baking and tending to her garden full of fruit trees, Val is also continuing to write her regular blogs for stairlift firm Stannah during lockdown. To find out some of Val’s top baking tips, see stannah.co.uk