Saturday 4 December 2010

Delia Smith: Cookery writer extraordinaire

Bono. Voltaire. Caligula. Delia. One musician, one despot and two writers (albeit of very different sorts). Assuming Voltaire never played in a rock band, the thing they all have in common is the singular aspect of their names. There's a tribe of pygmies in the Amazon basin who've never seen a white man but mention Delia to them and they'll boil up a caiman egg and produce perfect roast potatoes.

Delia Smith, affectionately aka The Blessed Delia, may just be the world's best known cookery instructor. Other television cooks come and go, swearing or gor blimeying unconvincingly, but Delia has lasted for decades and still pulls in the audiences. Her TV shows get ratings that otherwise require naked C-list celebs in a jungle, her books sell like porn to a US Congressman, she's one of the very few topics that amiably crosses generations, she's a bit prim and we love her. Why?

Well, the basic reason is that she's very good at what she does. She shows you what to do and tells you why she's doing it. Her books are the same: calmly written, easy to follow, informative without hectoring. They're well laid out, well illustrated and you know that every recipe will work. Novice cooks love her books, experts admire them. They, together with Leiths Vegetable Bibleare the ones I resort to time and again. Like the best schoolteachers, she won't snarl at you if you need a refresher or a few hints.

delia smith book review christmas pudding As the recipes are clear and orderly, so you'd expect her books themselves to be clear and logical, and indeed they are. Chapter by chapter, descriptions of main ingredients and what to look for when buying, simple cooking through to detailed recipes, the books show a huge amount of forethought and an attention to editing that many other cookery books would do well to emulate.

So, Delia Smith walks on water and probably cooks on it also. Well, she has had the odd mishap -- I thought her "absolute basics" series was slow and too simplistic, and her "How to Cheat at Cooking" was simply awful. It's so unlike her to do things wrong that Cheat got slated by just about everybody. Rest assured: a couple of booboos in a highly public forty year career is a fantastic record.

Want to see some more Delia? Try her own site. Just what you'd expect, an excellent and generous cookery site, with various freebies and over 1000 recipes.

Find all her books at Amazon; if you go for one only, get the classic shown below (ignore the slightly scary picture on the front):

I started with a rock reference; let's finish with another. There's a persistent rumour that Delia baked the cake shown on the cover of the Stones' Let It Bleed.Rolling Stones Let It Bleed Delia Smith and Mick Jagger, ah, we can only dream ...


Paul said...

A friend has just asked me why on earth I'm writing about Delia Smith. Well, true, she hasn't written any crime fiction, unless she uses a pseudonym I've not heard of, but she is an excellent writer and it's Christmas.

Like many people I have a row of cookery books received as Christmas presents and barely touched since the unwrapping (Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein are the worst offenders). If anyone is persuaded to give a Delia, rather than a flashy but useless tome, my work here is done :)

Paul said...

A thought that's just struck me: I've never given or received a cookery book as a birthday present, only as a Christmas present. Why aren't cookery books considered okay for birthdays?

Paul said...

Will a review elsewhere bring me any traffic or raise me in search engines? See

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