We need Delia Smith now more than ever

Forget Masterchef and Heston's creations; ker-razy cooking might make entertaining viewing but home cooks need a fail-safe mentor with foolproof recipes

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The Independent Online

So, Delia Smith has left Waitrose to spend more time with her football team/husband/mixing bowl. Her on-screen husband, Heston Blumenthal, meanwhile, will continue to hawk the posh groceries, while those of us who rather love Delia hope she might return to what we always liked best about her – foolproof recipes. By which I mean her How to Cook heyday; let’s draw a veil quietly over the cheat’s book, which used frozen mash (shudder).

For all I know (Delia’s staying silent), it was her decision to leave Waitrose, but I suspect the brand let her go – it’s in thrall to Blumenthal, whose “wacky” creations for them have sold well in recent years. And he’s on the telly all the time between the ad breaks, which is nice for public awareness. Making tennis-court-sized sandwiches, recreating Neanderthal feasts and so on.

I’m all for innovation in food – some of my best dining experiences last year were at restaurants where I ate ingredients and combinations I would never have dreamt of myself – but it is sad that home cooks feel like they’re being nudged out of the spotlight altogether. See also MasterChef’s “journey” (how they love that word) from praising adept amateurs to exhorting contestants to sous vide and foam up everything.

Ker-razy cooking might make entertaining viewing but there is now more of a need than ever for Delia Smith (and Simon Hopkinson, whose calm, utterly reliable recipes on The Good Cook made me wish I had a TV in the kitchen). As for baking… choux pastry in the shape of a bicycle and Elgin marbles recreated in marzipan fall into the same category as Heston, I’m afraid.

We are as bombarded by highfalutin food as we are with statistics about the record intake of junk food in this country. The disconnect just keeps getting wider and wider, rather like many of us. We’ve never successfully revived Home Economics lessons in schools, when what children – and pretty much all of us – need is to be taught simple, nutritious, economic fare such as fish pies, spaghetti Bolognese, stews, soups and so on. Nobody has ever come close to Delia’s recipe for shepherd’s pie, in my opinion.

With the news this week that more children in Britain than ever before are going to school in the morning without having had a proper breakfast (or indeed any at all), there is a desperate need to re-establish understanding of nutrition. This is exactly when an authoritative, motherly figure is needed, to coolly dismiss the ready-meal rubbish and vegetable-less ensembles on slate so beloved of TV chefs. And who better than St Delia, whose books have seen generations of students through university. Has her stock (no pun intended) really fallen so low?