I have most of her books, usually given to me as Christmas presents by my sister over the years. (I would usually buy her the same book in return!) Every single one of her recipes I've tried have turned out really well (apart from one curry recipe which was way too mild for my chilli-tempered tastebuds) and I've reaped the praise. (My book club members - even the non-vegies - are begging for my/Delia's nut loaf for the next meet.)
My mum hated cooking (apart from puddings and cakes which she pulled off rather well) and you tasted that resentment in every mouthful (soggy cabbage, congealed gravy, overcooked meat). She also relied on tinned and packet food and frozen foods much of the time, as did so many in her generation of British housewives, post-war rationing. Frozen fish fingers, cod in butter sauce, baked beans on toast, Heinz spaghetti hoops, boil-in-the-bag rice, faggots (the haggis actually was invented in the British Midlands!) with tinned mushy peas, instant coffee, television dinners in neat aluminum trays, tinned salmon for Sunday teas, oven chips ... the litany goes on.
I wasn't allowed into the kitchen which was her territory, and I had only a few cooking lessons at school with a veritable dragon of a domestic science teacher, so it was through books that I learned to cook. My first, a birthday present in 1973, was Good Housekeeping's Basic Cookery, which I still use a lot. (I'm working up the energy to go downstairs in a while to make a ginger loaf cake.)
I grew up in a generation in Britain where food was particularly bland and boring, and before many of the ingredients that have become every day fair were common. In the shops in the village where I lived there were no no "exotic" vegetables such as courgettes (zucchini) or aubergines (brinjal) or peppers, garlic was seldom found and even then a single clove in a dish seemed to be the limit for the British palate, the thought of using herbs was quite revolutionary and only dried ones were available, yoghurt was just beginning to make an appearance, and there was no olive oil or black pepper. Such was our insularity that that we never ate dishes with foreign origins. I had my first Chinese and Indian food in my late teens, and felt I was becoming very cosmopolitan.
Delia Smith opened a window onto a culinary world I'd never known, where one used a whole range of fresh ingredients, and cooked with a real love and respect for the food.
Although I try to keep most of the books on my shelves in good condition, my cookbooks wear their war wounds with pride. The cover has almost come off my Complete Illustrated Cookery Course (above), and Delia Smith's Christmas (left) would provide a forensic scientist with much DNA evidence (including a smear of blood when I grated my finger in with the lemon peel).
I also scribble comments meant for future reference on all the recipes I've tried (below right), with notes of changes and substitutions and suggestions for future modifications. My cookbooks are completely interactive.
I didn't see Delia on TV until some cookery shows began to be shown on Astro, and by then she was being upstaged by the cheerfully slapdash Jamie and food-porn star Nigella, both of whom canoodle happily on my shelves. But no-one supplants Delia.
But now comes news that St. Delia's halo is crumbling. Britain's Daily Mail talks about the "demonising" of Delia (and puts a pair of red horns on her picture) and Delia Goes to the Darkside screams Alex Renton's headline on the Guardian website :
We burnt Delia last night. "How to Cook", Volumes One and Two: the books went up in strangely pungent smoke as the crusted pages gave up the essences of recipes we sweated over 10 years ago: coconut milk, lime juice, crème fraiche, "classic fresh tomato sauce". "Fresh" is on most pages: the black pepper never appears without the words "freshly milled".What's the original kitchen diva done wrong? Well her latest book, and the TV programme based on it, is called How to Cheat at Cookery(which was also the title of the first book she wrote) and the recipes are all based on convenience foods. Tins, jars, packets, frozen stuff. Her fans are devastated and accuse her of selling out.
Whilst I'm not averse to time-saving methods and a bit of creative cheatery myself, Delia in her previous incarnation taught me that food can be fast and delicious and composed of fresh ingredients. One of my favourite recipes I learned from her, a sort of pasta Alfredo of the sort that posh restaurants charge RM30 or so per portion for can be produced in 7 minutes with a couple of minutes spare to assemble a tomato salad. Drop by and time me if you don't believe it.
Here's what Delia herself says.
Incidentally, Delia was in KL not so long ago with Norwich City FC and she signed some books in Kinokuniya. I'm still kicking myself for not going with my food-splattered, falling apart, scribbled on copies for her to sign.
(Rob sent me the links via Facebook and I think he is horrified too!)