She coaxed us back into the kitchen with precise instructions on boiling an egg and baking cakes that always rise. But despite shelves groaning with trendy cookbooks, it seems most of us are unlikely to get beyond Delia Smith's back-to-basics culinary stand-bys.
Although the average household now has cookbooks containing more than 1,000 recipes, a new survey of 2,893 people by the daily food television show Food Uncut on UKTV Food reveals that we will only attempt 35 of them. Britons own a total of 171 million cookbooks - but 61 million will never be opened, with almost two-thirds of people admitting that they keep them for show rather than practicality.
According to the survey, Delia, with her no-nonsense recipes, is the most popular chef in our kitchens, followed by Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Tens of thousands of tentative cooks follow Delia's instructions slavishly - particularly the countdown to the ultra-stressful Christmas dinner, in which she leaves no detail to chance. More modern chefs have adopted a more laissez fair approach to measurements and instructions, but today's survey suggests that while we enjoy watching chefs behaving with abandon, we prefer more guidance when left to our own devices.
The restaurant owner and food writer Giorgio Locatelli believes we should not take recipe books too literally. He said:"Books are for inspiration. If you get 35 good recipes out of 1,000, that's absolutely brilliant. All cookery books are for show - a cookery book doesn't cook for you, so every book is made for show. They haven't invented a book with arms and legs yet."
The results also reveal that despite the rise of the modern man, only 28 per cent will try new dishes, compared with 71 per cent of women. Delia has sold more than 18 million cookbooks. Her first Cookery Course television series and books were an instant hit in the Seventies, but her greatest success followed in 1998 when her How to Cook series stripped cookery back to its basics and proved to be her biggest seller so far. One reader review on Amazon.co.uk states: "If a Brit has only one cookbook, it's likely to be this one. The recipes are all straightforward, and well within the range of the beginner. They are guaranteed to work, and her chatty style is engaging and reassuring."
But the majority of people still find themselves put off trying a new recipe either because they look too complicated (80 per cent) or because they are short of the right ingredients (70 per cent). In addition, the survey revealed that more than a third of people use the internet for recipes, while just under a third use recipes passed on from family and friends.
The top 10
* 1 Delia Smith
* 2 Jamie Oliver
* 3 Nigella Lawson
* 4 Gary Rhodes
* 5 Ken Hom
* 6 Mary Berry
* 7 Rick Stein
* 8 Madhur Jaffrey
* 9 Ainsley Harriott
* 10 Gordon RamsayReuse content