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Delia's 40 years in cooking

PUBLISHED: 09:55 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:21 02 July 2010

Sarah Hardy

She's the nation's favourite cook and now she's back on our screens. SARAH HARDY looks forward to a new television series that celebrates Delia's 40 years in cookery.

She's the nation's favourite cook and now she's back on our screens. SARAH HARDY looks forward to a new television series that celebrates Delia's 40 years in cookery.

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Not many people are known simply by their first names. I can think of a couple - Diana and Delia. While the Princess of Wales will always hold a special place in many people's hearts, Delia is the woman who got us all cooking long before the likes of Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes and the rest of em!

Delia is, quite simply, a national treasure. In a career spanning five decades, she has ruled the roast as the queen of home cooking. Her practical, easy to understand recipes have made cooks of us all as they actually work. Simple as that!

Delia, who has no formal cooking training, tests and re-tests her recipes to ensure that we don't go wrong so we trust her like no others.

Her unpretentious manner, her attention to detail and slightly stern attitude got my 40-something generation to think that cooking was actually pretty important and good fun. We were the microwave, fast food kids who were never taught anything as useful as how to boil an egg at school. But Delia did - and she got us to think about curries, posh puddings and so very much more.

Her credentials are impressive - she's sold a whopping 18 million cook books, starred in several of her own cookery programmes on telly and gained CBE. And that's before we mention the Delia Effect. Should she include a particular fruit, a type of salt or recommend a special herb, and sales go ballistic!

Now a major five part BBC television series called Delia Through the Decades, celebrates her career and the many ways in which she has shaped both what people eat and how they cook.

Starting on BBC2 on Monday, each episode is packed with fantastic archive footage, as Delia revisits her favourite recipes from each decade and recreates some with a contemporary twist.

The opening programme goes back to the roots of Delia's mission to revive good old homely cooking. Her passion stemmed from watching her mother and grandmother concoct beautiful dishes from home-grown ingredients during the war.

Delia revisits the London restaurant - then called The Singing Chef - in which she worked as a waitress during the swinging 60s and whose wonderful chef was an early inspiration. She recreates roast duck in cherry sauce, a dish she cooked many times while working there.

Delia describes her epiphany as she researched 17th- and 18th-century recipe books in the reading rooms of the British Museum and recreates one of the first recipes she tried out from those old books, an 18th-century apple flan. This research inspired her belief that British cookery could be brought back to life if only someone would take up the challenge to popularise it. In homage to the Sixties and the trend for flambéing food, Delia also cooks up a soufflé omelette citron flambé.

During the Sixties, Delia worked as a food stylist in the advertising industry. She had her own slice of music history handed to her on a plate when, in 1969, she was asked to create a "gaudy cake" for the cover of The Rolling Stones album Let It Bleed. This led to a meeting with a literary agent who became a lifelong friend and has since played a huge part in her remarkable literary and television career.

The second episode sees Delia in the 70s - a time of power cuts, picket lines, punks ... and pate! And it was the decade when Delia first came to the nation's attention. She started her first "proper job" as a cookery writer for the Mirror Magazine where she met her future husband, Michael. When the magazine folded, Delia needed a new job and bravely took on the challenge of writing and devising six recipes a week for the London Evening Standard, drawing on her resources to come up with new ideas, often at the last minute.

In this programme, Delia trusts her initiative once more to revisit a perennial favourite using the seasonal vegetables in her kitchen garden - a delicious red onion and parmesan salad with sage.

In 1973, Delia's friend and TV producer Frances Whitaker suggested her to the BBC, which was looking for a new face following years of Fanny Cradock. Before she knew it, Delia was given her own series, Family Fare. Frances and Delia go back to the old studio where they used to broadcast and relive the nerves and near misses of those one-take episodes.

Delia and her mother re-watch the very first episode of Family Fare and Delia cooks one of her favourite candlelight dinner dishes from that series - pork chops braised with wild mushrooms. Originally, she made it with cream and button mushrooms but, in tonight's programme, she updates it with crème fraiche and porcini.

During the 70s, Delia also published four books. She has selected her personal favourite recipe from that time - a coffee and walnut cake - to bake again.

There is also a contribution from David Attenborough, who helped Delia get her next project on to the BBC - Delia Smith's Cookery Course.

The remaining three programmes trace her career to the present and include yet more archive footage and comments from many of her celebrity fans such as Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood.

t Delia Through The Decades starts on BBC2 at 8.30pm on January 11.

FLASH FOOD

Delia has told how her knack of revealing all began early in her culinary life - after flashing at customers while waitressing.

The star - known for demystifying cookery skills - had to be reprimanded for wearing short skirts while bending over to open bottles of wine at tables.

The national treasure had her first break in the food trade when she was a waitress at The Singing Chef restaurant in Paddington, London, in the 1960s.

Smith - who previously had a stint as a photographic swimwear model - admitted: "I used to have a mini-skirt on. If I did waitressing and I couldn't pull the cork out of the bottle, I would put it between my ankles like this - and I used to get told off because I had a mini skirt."

Smith returns to the restaurant for the series and is reunited with fellow staff and the then owner, chef Leo Evans.

"If it wasn't for this restaurant and if it wasn't for Leo I wouldn't have had a career at all,' she said.

The presenter also reveals how she was unaware one of her most widely seen creations was destined to end up on a well-known album sleeve.

Smith famously made the cake on the cover of the Rolling Stones album Let It Bleed and owns a framed image of the sleeve signed by frontman Mick Jagger.

She explains: "One morning I got a call from a photographer who said 'could you do Tuesday this week? I need a really gaudy cake - It's got to look really gaudy and horrible'.

"So I went along with my gaudy cake and I didn't know until I actually got to the studio that it was the cover of a Stones album.'

She said she was delighted by the commission: "I was a huge Stones fan. I went to see them live when they were in concert. I had all their albums - I still have got them.'

DELIA SMITH - FACT FILE

t Delia was born in 1941 in Surrey and left school with no qualifications. She worked as a hairdresser, shop assistant and in a travel agency

t Aged 21, she worked in The Singing Chef in Paddington as a washer-up. She began reading cookery books in the Reading Room at the British Museum and tried them out on the family she was living with at the time.

t In 1969 she was taken on as cookery writer for the Daily Mirror's new magazine. Her first piece featured kipper pate, beef in beer and cheesecake. She soon married Michael Wynn-Jones, the magazine's deputy editor.

t In 1972, she started to write for the Evening Standard. She also wrote for the Radio Times and was the resident cook for Look East in the early 1970s.

t Delia hosted a popular television show, Family Fare, from 1973 to 1975. Her first televised cookery course, Delia's Cookery Course in the late 1970s, led to three books with the same name - and Delia was on her way to stardom.

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