FINALLY WE know the truth about whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first. It couldn't have been either because the only possible answer is that Delia came first to make the decision for us. Surely the lesson of this week is that we would not stand for any egg to be produced, or chicken hatched, without her blessing. It seems that Delia - no surname needed - needs only to smile at an egg for us all to want to go to work on one.
She is simply the most powerful woman in Britain, and we are happy for her to be so. Never mind that she is secretive, bossy and a former hairdresser. We don't care that she is worth pounds 20m, or about the fact that she and her husband have a rather cosy relationships with Sainsbury's. No, we simply love her. Where Delia goes, we follow, and where Delia has gone over the past few weeks is back to basics. We scoffed when John Major tried it but we can't get enough of it from this 57-year-old millionaire who doesn't cook Christmas lunch because she is normally in Barbados.
"If you want to learn how to cook, start with eggs," she says in her new book, How To Cook. It is covered in white eggs. They are beautiful and we want some of that beauty too. We have no sooner seen her boil an egg on television than, quicker than you can spell "salmonella", we are stocking up at the supermarket. Today there will be 1.3 million extra eggs sold in Britain because of Delia.
The British Egg Information Service calls it "The Delia Effect". Everything she touches turns into panic buying, no questions asked. In 1994 she sparked a coriander and lime famine, with the publication of her book, Summer Collection. Then, a year later, the UK was "plunged into crisis" when she chose the obscure cranberry as her "ingredient of the year". Never mind that they tasted awful. We believe in Delia, ergo we believe in cranberries. Why, she only had to mention a certain pan and the orders flooded in: sales have gone from 200 in one year to 90,000 in four months.
Now she is working her magic on the egg and, let's face it, no product could need her more. Most of us haven't felt so great about eggs since 1988, when Edwina Currie told us how many of them were infected with salmonella. Delia deals with this delicately in her book: "Poor old eggs; just as they recover from one slur, along comes another. Eggs, as we know, can harbour a bacterium called salmonella... the only way we be absolutely certain of not being affected is by only eating eggs that are well cooked, with hard yolks and no trace of softness or runny yolk at all. Ugh!" Then she gives us a way out of that Ugh-factor. "What we all need to do is consider this very seriously and be individually responsible for making our own decisions. Life, in the end, is full of risks. The only way I can be absolutely sure I won't be involved in a car accident (and statistically this is a far greater risk than eating eggs) is to never ride in a car. But I am willing to take that risk - as I am when I eat a soft-boiled egg. So it's a personal decision."
And, after a quick health warning for the old, young and pregnant, she moves on briskly to her seven-step programme to boil an egg. I never realised it was so complicated. Evidently, to boil an egg you have to have an egg timer and a small saucepan. Nothing else will do. And don't forget to prick the shell to avoid the dreaded air pocket problem. She gives us two methods for soft-boiled eggs, one for hard-boiled and special instructions for peeling. This is cooking for the committed.
But the Delia Effect doesn't seem to have obliterated my personal risk factor radar completely. I ring the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and ask what percentage of eggs are infected with salmonella now. They say that there have been 995 "incidents" in flocks in 1997. So what percentage of eggs is infected? They said they'd get back. They did, but still weren't sure.
So I go in search of someone who does. Eventually, the Egg Information Service confirms that one-in-700 eggs is contaminated. Then I am told some genuinely good news. The egg industry is embarking on a pounds 4m programme to vaccinate all hens used to produce Lion brand eggs against salmonella.
Even Professor Richard Lacey, the man who blew the whistle on BSE, and the industry's scourge, is impressed. "British eggs will be the safest in the world," he says. All it took was money, commitment and the will to do it. The industry has gone where the Government has feared to tread.
So, Delia was wrong: eating a soft-boiled egg doesn't need to involve personal risk at all. This is great news for all of us who will be spending every spare moment mastering the instructions for "Soft-boiled eggs - Method One". What would we do without Delia?
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