TORONTO - She's come a long way from being swaddled in the coat of her father, a photo made famous by the fact that it appeared on the back of her father's solo debut after the split of his band — a little Liverpool ensemble called the Beatles.
Now, Mary McCartney — the daughter of Paul and Linda — is all grown up, with the 43-year-old photographer's new vegetarian cookbook celebrating the simplicity of the home-cooked meals at the core of her famed family with the similarly simply named "Food."
But simplicity can be deceiving.
"It took me ages to come up with the title and they got more complicated, and then in the end I just sort of thought, well, if it's getting complicated, then simplify," she said, calling from London. She admitted to scratching a number of names, including "A Vegetarian Grows Up."
The book is full of recipes she grew up on, as well as others that she picked up and adapted along the way, and packed with McCartney's vivid, rustic photography. The photos came easily enough, as her instincts for colour parlayed well both in food and on film.
"My husband makes fun of me — I have to have some colours on the plate," she says. "I also think it makes it more interesting from a taste point of view too."
But McCartney says she found it surprising how hard it was to formally write the recipes down, which she admits she never did before preparing the book. It's in part because she is a photographer first, but it's easy to see that the book is not made up of the kind of rigorous strictures that many cookbooks feature; additions and changes are encouraged, many ingredients are optional, and most are commonplace.
"It was a lot more time-consuming than I initially thought. Photography is a lot more straightforward. I almost take photographs so I don't have to put pen to paper."
The cookbook originated after a media appearance for Meat Free Monday, a campaign helmed by the McCartney clan to encourage people to go vegetarian for one day a week. Afterward, the interviewer suggested she do a cookbook to help people overcome what can appear to be a daunting transition.
So, as is her way, she went back to basics.
"The aim for it is to provide an introduction on how wonderful vegetarian cooking can be, and hopefully I've made it so that you're not missing out, with a variety of different foods for different occasions."
McCartney says now is a great time to be a vegetarian. She remembers when her parents first became outspoken adopters of the way of eating, and how few options there once were.
"You don't seem like an alien now, whereas before, you just had to cook grilled vegetables all the time. ... The world has opened up. Food is a lot more accessible."
The cookbook, then, is in many ways a paean to McCartney's mother Linda, an ardent animal rights activist who died of cancer in 1998, and who was a photographer and cookbook author herself when not singing and playing the keyboard with her husband in the band Wings.
"All my early food memories around the kitchen — her cooking, and us chatting, and really lovely growing-up memories, and the smells of all the food, and her just happily cooking and preparing things in the kitchen, and me helping her prepare things and learning how to get really full flavour combinations ..." she says, trailing off.
"I've definitely inherited her cooking style. ... It felt like it brought her voice back into my head on a more daily basis. ... It took me back to thinking about that time I spent with her, and putting down on paper what I loved."
Linda was born in New York, and that British-American upbringing gave Mary McCartney a duality in her cooking, blending the family Sunday roasts of the British with the big mixed salads and sweet corn fritters that remind her of summers on Long Island.
"Food is emotional, and it's tactile and, as I say, a lot of my food memories were times spent with my mom. They're happy times, but obviously she's not here anymore, and that makes it more nostalgic. It's emotional, but it's positive as well."
But she also got by with a little help from her father, who has texted photos from his current U.S. tour of his daughter's cookbook in bookstores.
"When I see him at holiday times, I cook for him, and he really appreciates good food and he loves to be cooked for and pampered a bit. ... I think he's quite proud."