Tasteful Delia dishes up a literary feast

MARIANNE MACDONALD

Media Correspondent

Question: When does TV cookery become art? Answer: When it is the work of Delia Smith, according to the Times Literary Supplement.

The edict is issued in this week's edition, with the centre pages devoted to a deconstruction of modern cookery writing by Eric Griffiths, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. But while the don compares the motherly writing of Delia Smith's Winter Collection to the Queen, he dismisses Sophie Grigson, author and presenter of Sophie's Meat Course, as a "younger Royal", similar to the Duchess of York.

"Delia and her cooking transcend sensuous immediacy as do marble goddesses," Dr Griffiths writes in an analysis which will shock those who thought her recipes fairly straightforward.

"Poised like a dancer on point above a melody which she commands, Delia Smith's favourite verb is 'pop': 'just pop it in the oven'. Her world is non-stick, biddable . . . She measuredly 'places' and 'puts' things - in a bowl, over heat."

Delia's work "expresses itself best in her over-arching and point-instant grasp of time", the English literature lecturer says.

"Demonstrating her recipe for Hung Shao Pork, she says 'and then' 17 times in the few minutes she needs to show us how ... She continues to mark time, like a piano teacher, quite as firmly in her books.

"Her recipes do not just begin, they tell you they are at the beginning: 'Begin by cutting the pumpkin in half'. She stays with you all the way, ticking off the instructions - 'First of all . . . When . . . Now . . . Next . . . Then . . . Next . . . Now . . . Then . . . Now . . .' until we arrive together at a 'Finally' (from the recipe for Italian Stuffed Aubergines). No other cookery writer so resembles a guardian angel, beating its wings over you at every step."

By contrast, the more radical Sophie, daughter of the cookery writer, Jane Grigson, is roasted for her hurried style, "fuzzed" geography and "poor" knowledge of history.

"According to Sophie's Meat Course, what you do is 'throw them [chops] under the grill with nothing more than a light brushing of olive oil' or 'throw together yoghurt and mint sauce' or, thanking God, realise that 'it tastes even better when a few mushrooms are thrown in', Mr Griffiths observes. "As befits a younger royal, Sophie Grigson makes confessions aplenty. She gets things off her chest: 'to be honest, I'm not a great gravy fan', 'to be honest, I prefer to bake them slowly in the oven'."

But it is her attitude which really lets her down, Dr Griffiths concludes. "You might find a dish needed only to be 'zipped into the oven shortly before supper'. This is Duchess of York stuff ('pongy', 'doddle', 'whizzo') in contrast to the regal self- control, the dowdy reticence, of Delia Smith."

Pasta notes ... how the two cooks compare in the helpings of words and food

DELIA

Appearance

Housewifely, reassuring, dowdy. Determinedly untrendy. Reminiscent of your best friend's mum at school

Best known book

Delia Smith's Winter Collection - heavily discounted over Christmas, it became a runaway bestseller. Every dinner party has one

Most unlikely recipe

Four-nut chocolate brownies? Delia is not one for trendy combinations

TV style

Dogged and slightly breathless; not a natural, hence the awkward pauses and the air of general discomfort

Prose style

Deeply practical, relentlessly optimistic, evokes joints sizzling in the oven, puddings steaming merrily on the stove, bread baking cheerily, and so on

Favourite recipe

Roast duck with sour cherry sauce (the first thing she learned to cook while washing up in a restaurant) crepes suzettes - blame her for bringing them back into fashion

Favourite words

"Absolutely", "superb", "pop", "practical", "pretty", "no fuss", "delightful"

Most likely to say

Cranberries

Least likely to say

God, let's just go to MacDonalds

SOPHIE

Spiky feminist who spends a lot at the hairdresser, good line in Bet Lynch earrings, may have been a punk when about 15

Eat Your Greens: just as Delia spends a lot of time on the nice BBC, Sophie's natural home is Channel 4 where she presented Eat Your Greens and Grow Your Greens and, most recently, Sophie's Meat Course

Esfinaj-en-Aloo (spinach with prunes)

Intense and enthusiastic, hoovers up her offerings, happily tears carcasses from limb to limb and gets down to it with sweetbreads

Emphasis on saving money; businesslike; happy to warn you if a particular dish (artichokes, for example) will make you fart

Swiss chard with olives au gratin

"Earthy"; "substantial", "olive oil", "whizz"; "tricksy", "zip", "doddle"

But they're really good for you!

But I don't like carrots

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