Can you learn cooking from cookery books?

16 Oct 2012
Local time
6:23 AM
My husband Tony's favourite saying is 'anyone who can read, can cook,' and up to a point, I agree with that. Now Delia Smith has come out and said you can't learn cooking from cookery books, and that today's celebrity chefs are intimidating.

The cynical part of me wonders if she's trying to drum up business for her online cookery course, but when I think of it, I've learned some of my best cooking tips from chatting with experienced chefs and experimenting with recipes, rather than just following instructions blindly.

What do you think?
I think you can certainly learn recipes from books, and get ideas for experimenting. But there's a lot to be said for learning from a person, perhaps that's the best way to pick up tips and so on.

Funny though, Delia wrote all those books apparently teaching people to cook, and now they don't work?

In the end, I guess it comes down to the individual. If someone wants to learn, and only has access to a good basic book (like Delia's Classic), then they will learn, and figure it out along the way. And the style of the book makes a difference - some people prefer step by step instructions, some people like a more informal chummy style.

I tend to cook by making it up as I go, only using books for 'formula' cooking like baking, or to check oven temps etc. My Mum likes to follow recipes more. We both learned the basics by watching people with experience, and use books to branch out.
I have 'The Beginner's Cookbook' by Rosemary Wadey. I learnt a lot of my 'Western' cooking from that as it has a section that tells you what the glossary terms actually mean and how to do it. Terms like braise, poach, whip, fold, etc. really do need detail explanation and demonstration at the beginner level if there has been no previous experience of the methods.
It also breaks down the elements of recipes so that you can work out how to make the basic white sauce that is required in a complicated sauce.

I grew up watching my parents cook traditional Chinese food, mum at home and dad in a restaurant/takeaway. However, the methods and ingredients don't translate well to, say, pasta or shepherd's pie, never mind boiling veg to a tasteless mush.:wink:

I guess that means that you can learn from a book so long as there is some initial experience there.
We seem to agree that a combination of cookery books, tips from professionals and gifted amateurs, combined with personal experience, makes for the best results. And if I go to a book, it's always Delia's, as she explains everything so well.
I was taught by my Grannie and at school. My Grannie covered nice, tasty food & desserts and allowed me to ask questions, experiment and gain confidence. School* taught me about nutrition & washing up and how to avoid a very grump cookery teacher with a violent temper!

I have loads of recipe books, but if they don't get used often or there is only 1 or 2 recipes I use, then they go. they have to stand the test of time. I also quite happily modify recipes and make things up. Something my OH can't do. But what we have found is that some recipes are best made by him (I freelance too much:rolleyes:), and most are best made by me because he can't adapt them to our tastes or does not remember when I say double everything in herbs & spices, that does not mean double the oil as well.... :unsure:

* Old fashioned private school, all girls learnt cookery, sewing, needlewood, made items of clothing but also woodwork, metal work, use of drills, saws, hammers, lathes etc and also how to wire a plug...
I had some very simple cookery lessons at primary school when I was about 7 years old.

The only thing that stuck with me was that I was totally confused when I was asked to beat an egg, something I had done often at home.
I had cracked the egg into a small bowl, and was told I had done that very well, but then was stumped as I couldn't find a pair of chopsticks with which to beat them!
The cookery teacher thought I was stupid then and I don't remember being in any more cookery classes after that.
I had some very simple cookery lessons at primary school when I was about 7 years old.

My son cooked his first 'real' meal at primary school. It was a tuna pasta bake, and it was excellent. He was so proud because he'd cooked a meal for the whole family. He's 43 now, and he still does most of the cooking for himself and his wife. That tuna pasta bake inspired him to greater things, which is why I think all schools should teach cookery. Apparently, it's coming back on the curriculum, which is great news.
Top Bottom