Author Topic: 'I would have been a terrible mother,' says the queen of the kitchen Delia Smith  (Read 1099 times)

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Offline bijou

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The first ingredient in Delia Smith's new cookery book is 700g of Aunt Bessie's Homestyle frozen crispy roast potatoes. The second is 50g of ready-grated cheese.

It gets worse - or better, depending on how slovenly you like to be around the kitchen - because other recipes are based on McCain's Crispy Bites, Eazy Fried Onions, Sainsbury's ready-prepared cheese sauces and M&S Chunky Chicken from a tin. Eek!

I call my mother to tell her about this shift in British culinary history and to gloat.

"Delia says life's too short to peel a potato, so you shouldn't bother," I say.

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Delia Smith: Putting food over personality

"Don't be ridiculous," comes the reply. "She does, too. And she says it's OK to buy tins of mince from M&S, shove some mash on top and call it shepherd's pie."

"Our Delia?" Yes, it's true. The doyenne of the British culinary scene is back with a book called How To Cheat, serialised from today in the Mail's Weekend magazine.

Five years ago Delia retired, ostensibly to spend more time with her football club, claiming she had taught us everything we need to know about putting a meal on the table. So, why has she returned? And why has she seemingly warmed to convenience foods?

Delia settles into the sofa, folds her hands on her knee and says that the comeback wasn't about money, or fame, or showing those young whippersnappers Jamie and Nigella how it should be done.

"I bowed out because I thought I'd covered everything," she says. "I'd done basic cookery. I'd given people every possible recipe. Then, about two years ago, I was aware of everything that was going on in the media about cooking and I was becoming more and more uneasy. I became aware of how difficult it is for women today. It's hard to get that meal on the table. With a husband. With children. I thought: 'People need help with this.'"

Delia dislikes the way celebrity chefs have taken over with their fancy restaurant ways.

"Everything in the past five years has been about chefs," she says. "It's all about what chefs do. But what you do at home is never going to be about that, is it?"

Is there too much pressure on people to be 'cheffy', as she puts it? "Yes," she says. "You have all these programmes with amateurs cooking and the chefs looking down their noses, saying: 'No, dear, that isn't good enough.' People are watching, saying: 'I'm not good enough either.'"

"What rubbish! I want people to eat well all the time, and if that means getting a helping hand with some ready-prepared ingredients, why not? I'm on a kind of mission."

Sometimes it seems that only Delia understands that not all women like cooking. "It's now normal to have a family and work," she says. "It isn't possible to cook how we used to cook. If you have people for supper - it doesn't have to be a dinner party - you have to take the day off to prepare."

Her book, the publicist tells me, is being released in time for Mother's Day. Good old Saint Delia. To the rescue again.

Yet how does Delia understand what it feels like to struggle home from an office, via the supermarket, lacking the energy to even contemplate peeling an onion?

She doesn't have children. She hasn't worked in an office since she was in her teens. She has a full-time housekeeper. Then she confides that she doesn't cook much at home these days. Her husband does most of it. "He's the real saint," she quips.

Doesn't this make Delia the biggest cheat of all?

...So, will we see her trailing her hair in the raspberry coulis, a la Nigella? "Well, I wouldn't say that," she laughs. "But I do love Nigella. She is passionate about food and her shows do make addictive TV. You can't take your eyes off them, can you?

A glimpse of the real Delia will probably help get rid of her saintly image, which she was offended by at first because she thought people were mocking her religious convictions. Even when it was explained to her that it referred to her ability to rescue recipes, she wasn't exactly keen.

"I hate it," she says. "I can't think of anyone less like a saint." I ask her what is the least saintly thing she has ever done. She thinks and says: "Oh, that is like asking what my favourite recipe is. I couldn't possibly choose."

Delia's faith is hugely important to her. She tells me she was 'transfixed, obsessed' with reading the Bible as a child. "All those people, those amazing lives. I could not get enough of it."

And she says that there is a link between her faith and her work. "I believe that God wants to me to help people with their cooking."

So you are on a mission from God? "No, no, no! I mean, everyone has this spiritual dimension to them. They have a gift, and that gift should be used to help others. It's a very Christian way of thinking."

Delia attends Mass every day. "I need it like I need to clean my teeth." Does it make her feel stronger? "No, quite the opposite. The closer you get to it, the more you realise your weakness. You accept that it is OK to be weak. It is OK to fail. That is very freeing. I come out thinking: 'OK, I am human. Bring it on.'"

Delia doesn't think of herself as a particularly good person. She chides herself for being easily irritated, impatient, and says she must be 'very difficult to live with'.

"I don't have a lot of patience. I am one of those grumpy old women. Sometimes I am not very attentive. I worry that I'm self-focused instead of focused on other people. My mind is always racing ahead, you see."

So, not at all saintly, then? She smiles. "A lot of people I know who don't share my interest in religion are much better people than I am."

She says that her foray into the world of football has been hugely beneficial - if only because it has stopped everyone treating her with such reverence.

"If you go into football, you have to be prepared for everyone to hate you. That's been good for me," she says. "I remember the first time I thought someone was going to attack me. This man came up shaking his fist. I thought: 'Wow!' I was quite shaken.

"But when you run a football club, you have to be prepared to take it personally when things go badly. A few weeks back, I sat with the supporters at half-time and one of them said to me: 'We are going to be in the bottom three and then we are going to be relegated, and what are you going to do about it?'"

Delia loves this. "I like to see where a job needs doing, then do it," she says. She's actually quite tough, and knows people think she can be a diva. "I once asked my agent, Debbie, about this. I said: 'Has success changed me? Have I become more difficult?'

"She said: 'No, Delia, you were always like that.'"

But when I suggest people think she's a canny businesswoman, she is intrigued. "I don't know that I am," she says.

"If you write a cookery book and you hit some button with the public and they buy the book, why does that make you a good businesswoman? I didn't set out to create an empire. All I have ever done is sell books. If I saw a profit and loss sheet, I wouldn't know which way up to hold it. I didn't even set out to have a career."

At first, she denies that not having children is a regret, pointing out that her brother had two children 'who were in our house most weekends'. Then she says: "I don't think I would have been a very good mother."

How odd. How can a woman so driven, capable, self-aware and, well, motherly possibly think this?

With startling honesty, she reveals: "It's complex. Oh deary, deary me. Would I have been able to be disciplined enough? I would have loved to have children, yes, but then I have loved what I have done without children."

Had times been different, would she have considered IVF or adoption?

"Perhaps. If I was anywhere where I saw child poverty, I could easily have done that, yes, but you make the best of what there is. You don't look at what there isn't. It's part of my faith."


Extracts from a long interview with the utterly wonderful Delia Smith.  Her recipes never fail because she tests them so well and they are all aimed at the home cook.

Offline Chris_

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She thinks she's a bad mother?  I have a cousin who used to eat the chocolate and caramel off Twix candy bars.  Until her kids were finally old enough to figure it out, they always thought Twix were just soggy cookies.
If you want to worship an orange pile of garbage with a reckless disregard for everything, get on down to Arbys & try our loaded curly fries.