Caring mothers don't use Oxo

Why pretend? They didn't like it. For every spoonful of stew they had six of ketchup
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The Independent Culture
NO, I did not watch Delia Smith's much debated cookery show How to Boil an Egg. Because, like Gary Rhodes, I found it offensive and an insult to my intelligence, simply because I already know how to boil eggs. Indeed, of my many and varied culinary talents, egg-boiling is probably my most accomplished, followed closely by toad-holing, apple- crumbling and porridge.

This is a pity, because I cannot honestly remember when I was last called upon to make any of them.

"Who's for a boiled egg then?" I call enthusiastically at breakfast, setting dappled china, home-made Seville orange marmalade, ditto damson jelly, and gleaming porridge bowls on to starched gingham.

"No thanks, Mum, no time, got to rush," they say, and tip half a kilo of chocolate-coated cereal into a paper bag to eat on the bus.

"Never mind, I'll give them something nourishing for supper," I think, taking off my Delia-Smith-Loves-Sainsbury's apron, and bustle down the road to the butcher.

Yes, we still have an old-fashioned butcher round the corner, with sawdust on the floor (the rest is in his head) who, just as Delia says, can be relied upon to recommend the best cuts of the day.

"No, I won't have the prime fillet at pounds 18 a pound. I was thinking more in terms of stew - neck of lamb, perhaps, or shin of beef?" The butcher's incredulous expression suggests that my request was for a whole sheep's head or a fardel of tripe. People's tastes have become more sophisticated, more Continental these days, he explains. I spend all afternoon lovingly preparing Lancashire hot-pot. Of course I've made my own stock; caring mothers don't use Oxo. Besides, basic stock is one of Delia's golden rules. ("It's so easy, just takes a little more time, that's all.") The pudding is home-made apple crumble served not with custard (too many E-numbers) or with double cream (too much cholesterol). "Half-fat creme fraiche is the obvious answer," I remember Delia telling us once, but by the time I got down to Sainsbury's, it had run out.

Five o'clock: "What's for supper Mum? Wicked smell - I'm starving." "Lancashire hot-pot and apple crumble". Why pretend? They didn't like it. For every spoonful of stew they had six of ketchup. Apart from everything else, it just wasn't cost-effective.

To hell with basic cooking, what my family and - from, what I gather - most of my friend's families want to eat is pizza, curry, Chinese and burgers, preferably delivered to the door in polystyrene cartons which they can rip open and watch in front of the television. So what's the solution? Do I go on cooking good, wholesome, nutritious, basic food, or do I throw in the towel and let them eat junk?

The answer probably is to force them to watch Delia Smith, so that they can appreciate for themselves all the benefits that good, basic cooking can afford; not just now but later, when they've gone to university and have to cook for themselves.

No, that's no good either. Their older brother has just gone to university, to his own flat, with just a tin-opener. Before he left I taught him how to boil an egg, just like Delia. He took to it like a duck to water. Last time he rang I asked how the cooking was getting on.

"I bet you're making perfect boiled eggs," I said. There was just one problem, he said: they only had a microwave oven.

Far be it from me to disparage Delia, whose every last stick of parsley garnish I follow slavishly, but boiled eggs may not have been the happiest choice to start with in terms of basic cookery, for the simple reason that nobody eats them any more. Come on, be honest. When did you last sit down at the breakfast table, crack open a speckled brown, size one, free-range classic, peer critically at the comparative textures of yolk and white, murmur "just perfect", and set about your business with salt cellar and soldiers? Last week, last month, last year?

Blame Edwina Curry, blame all those gut-wrenching documentaries about battery hens and salmonella, but the sad fact is that the boiled egg is disappearing down the same culinary cul-de-sac as calves' foot jelly and tapioca. I refer, of course, to the perfect, three-minute soft-boiled breakfast egg, the one Delia so artfully demonstrated and which caused such a furore, not the bullet-hard variety you pack into sandwiches.

She's right, of course. Apart from myself, I know very few people who can boil a perfect egg. My late uncle, Sidney Bevington, always ordered six boiled eggs for breakfast when he stayed at hotels. Only that way, he explained, tapping his way through them like a man playing the xylophone, could you be sure of getting one that was exactly right. Sensible chap.