For the best part of two years, I’ve been art-directing and designing for the digital cookbooks start-up, 1000 Cookbooks. Having been on the inside looking around this incredible resource for so long, I rather vainly considered that my own top-ten list was possibly of interest, not least because it’s been formulating in my head for most of the time I’ve been working on this project. So, start with #10 and then take a look at the rest, none of which appear in any order of preference…

#5 Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course

Delia Smith


Delia’s is one of the very few cooking names that I grew up with, albeit via television rather than her books. Even back then, she seemed to be ‘the one’ who knew. This book is my wife’s, an 18th birthday gift, an age and gesture which tells you all you need to know about this collection’s much vaunted usefulness. It’s missing a dust jacket and is now located on the shelf via its dusty black case with a simple script picked out in gold foil on the spine. Even in decay, it has an imposing almost monolithic quality.

We don’t use it so often, but when we do we don’t need to cross-refer to any other book or resource. Everything here is sacrosanct and not to be messed around with. There is a basic pancakes recipes on page 296 which is the recipe I first went to when I wanted to make pancakes for my daughter for the first time seven years ago. I cook them for both my children in exactly the same way to this day. I’ve never messed with that recipe or cared for an alternative, because I can’t imagine it can be improved on (I don’t want to improve it, either). I’ve made them hundreds of times and no longer need the book (nor scales, for that matter). Similarly, the bread and butter pudding which my wife and her mother have always made hails from here: it’s wonderful and the one that I always want to eat (and again, there is no need to ever try an alternative). Like Renaissance artists creating their art, their creations would always bear the hallmarks of their masters… I kind of instinctively know when a Delia dish appears on the family table.

For a long time, this book was the default repository into which we inserted numerous scribbled notes and cards which contained many other recipes which established themselves as family ‘classics’ (such as the double chocolate cheesecake recipe I’ve just found). If they were trusted and loved, to be made again and again, then they went to reside with Delia.

Battered and falling apart it might be, but it’s a book which I absolutely know would feature on this same list in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time.