I’ve got to say, that’s not really a flattering thought, is it? I don’t really, as a twenty year old, head into the kitchen and immediately channel my inner Delia Smith. (Or at least, I don’t admit that I do). What about Nigella Lawson, I hear you cry? Rachel Khoo? Lorraine Pascal? Nope, sorry. I think I’m destined to be a Delia.
This isn’t the place to go into my class anxieties, but let it suffice to say that my parents have never hosted a dinner party, and it is rather unlikely that they could end up involved in a court case involving Italian PA’s allegedly stealing £300,000, whether or not it was related to keeping secrets about cocaine usage, mainly because a) the nearest they’re likely to get to a PA is my aunt who works as one, although in rather less glamorous circumstances than Ms. Lawson’s employees, and b) they don’t have £300,000 to steal. In fact, the most common thing we were heard to cry as a family whilst watching Nigella’s shows was “They’re not her real friends, they’re just paid extras!”, followed by “And they’re not even eating that!”, at which point someone would probably pipe up “D’you want to go and cut the leftover cake?”, and we’d sit there munching and shaking our heads at the idea of touching anything with flour in whilst wearing a black jumper.
You see, these other women, the Rachels (why does my life in Paris look nothing like hers?), the Lorraines (sorry, never going to be a model: just too short) the Nigellas lost me on two fronts. There were the canapés (When are they ever going to be of use? That’s surely what crisps and roasted peanuts were invented for, no?) and there was the fact that everything had to be ‘naughty’ or ‘guilty’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘cheating’. I don’t want to read a recipe that makes me feel bad about myself before I’ve even started cooking: if that was what I was after, I’d just buy myself a ready meal! No, what I always liked about Delia, and what I have grown to admire, is that her main attraction is, quite simply, quite boringly, perhaps, that her recipes offer sensible meal suggestions, and that they invariably work.
We have, at home, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, a well-thumbed, rather spattered tome (I will admit that I’m not the neatest of cooks: let’s just say that you can tell the pages of the book that we use…) admittedly with some rather quaint inclusions that we have a tendency to skim over. And this, Deils, as we affectionately call it, is our cooking Bible. Onion gravy? A sensible quantity of béchamel sauce? Crêpes? Scones? She’s got them all. And it’s partly thanks to her that, long before the Great British Bake Off and designer cupcakes, I got my head around baking. It was our Sunday thing, me and my mum, and the best thing about Delia’s recipes is that she offered us a reasonable set of ingredients (no weird stuff that we wouldn’t be able to find at our local suburban Sainsbury’s) and no suggestion that there was something wrong about the fact that we, as a family of three, have a standard cake policy of making six servings: three for Sunday afternoon, and then the seconds for Monday evening.
Because, let’s face it, most people, most families, live the kind of lives where that is the norm. We’re not dashing around making nibbles to go with the cocktail party we’re throwing for the neighbours, and we’re not spending hours making cute little icing things to go on top of our elegant twelve-tier cake. And somehow I feel that Delia knows that: she might claim that her oven baked tomato ‘risotto’ is perfect for when you’ve got guests round, and you’re sat entertaining in the lounge as it merrily cooks away in your kitchen, but somehow I suspect that she knows that I’m actually going to use those twenty minutes when I’m not chained to the stove to catch up on my homework or watch some crappy early evening TV.
I suppose that somehow I identify with Delia: I imagine her padding around her house in her slippers, her parsnip soup bubbling away (I do love that curried parsnip soup!) on the stove, and I envisage her sitting it down to eat it with her husband, sharing the same kind of slightly mundane conversation about their daily lives as I do with my own parents. I know that in a way this is romanticised, falling for her image as much as if I really believed that Nigella got up in the middle of the night to munch whatever chocolate-coated snack she had supposedly just rustled up, or that everyone in Paris greets normal people as cheerily as they do Rachel Khoo in front of the cameras (trust me, they don’t!). But I don’t care. If I have to believe a lie, I’d like it to be this one. Anyway, Delia’s pancakes have never failed me (although I have to disagree when she says that you should throw the rubbish first one away: that’s being too sensible, since everyone knows that what you actually want to do is sneakily wedge it into your mouth, wincing as it burns your tongue because it’s still far too hot), her veggie lasagne is one of my favourite recipes and her Christmas cake has so many fond memories that I could create a whole post about them (my parents cannily realised when I was quite young that the best way to get me to help with weighing and chopping was to offer tasters of the extra glacé fruit, although I don’t think I ever quite got over the time I nibbled a spoonful of candied peel…), although it hasn’t been the same since Scoop ‘n’ Save shut down and we can’t buy angelica any more (if nothing else, I miss the inevitable cheesy jokes about mouldy green bits in the cake).
As far as role models go, she isn’t particularly glamorous, sexy or attractive, and she has a tendency to seem like she’s lecturing the camera rather than attempting to seduce it. But you know what? Maybe that’s exactly what I, as a young woman, want and need. Someone who’s successful for doing things well, not just selling her image, and who is known for her rather unique and potentially eccentric passion for her not-entirely-successful local football club. Maybe it’s that I get tired of seeing TV chefs raving about their wonderful local deli, and having extras pretending to be their friends crowd into a studio that’s supposedly their real kitchen to munch some kind of new wonder-dish, and actually what I want from a celebrity cook is someone to show me how to make something that I want to eat. Plus she sneakily slags off Margaret Thatcher in the promotional video on her website: what’s not to like?