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How to Cheat at Cooking is a cookbook by television chef Delia Smith, published in 2008 by Ebury Publishing. It was her first book following her How To Cook series, and had a television series based on the same recipes on BBC Two. Following publication, Smith was criticised by other chefs due to the use of certain ingredients such as canned minced lamb, and by nutritionists because of the level of salt in some of the recipes. The book increased the sales of several products, described as the "Delia Effect", and has been credited with an increase in the sales of tinned meat over the following two years.

How to Cheat at Cooking
How to Cheat at Cooking.jpg
AuthorDelia Smith
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherEbury Publishing
Media typePrint (hardcover)



British television chef Delia Smith's first published book was entitled How to Cheat at Cooking, published in 1971.[1] This was a guide to how to combine off-the-shelf products to reduce the time and effort needed when creating meals at home.[2] She had temporarily retired for five years after the success of her How To Cook book series.[3][4][5] But she sought to re-create her original book in 2008, including reusing the original title, and hoped to enable people to take shortcuts in recipes.[1][6]

Prior to the book's release, it was predicted that the "Delia effect" would repeat itself on some of the items mentioned in the book. This is where an ingredient or item mentioned by Smith would increase dramatically in sales – it had occurred in 2001 after she promoted cranberries, and additional sales of 54 million eggs have been credited to the chef after she demonstrated how to boil them on a television show. The media attempted to predict what items might see the effect occur prior to the release of the book; these suggestions included pasta by Fratelli Camisa, spice blends by a company called Seasoned Pioneers, frozen mashed potato by Aunt Bessie and bouillon powder. Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller said that "She names particular products and the supermarkets have been scrambling for the ingredients. It will put huge pressure on producers – there's going to be a pitta bread maker somewhere absolutely besieged."[1]

Following the launch of the book, a six-part television series appeared on BBC Two based on the same recipes.[7][8] A spokesperson for the BBC said that

It's going to be something we've not done before with Delia, showing how to cut corners, but not cut corners on quality or taste. We're also going to show her life beyond the kitchen. It's great that she's coming back and it's showing more of her life than ever before.[9]


Based on pre-orders alone, the book was ranked at number 2 in the top ten sales list on the Tuesday prior to launch.[1] This rose to number one in the list and set new records for advanced sales.[3] Borders reported needing to order additional deliveries of the book in order to keep up with demand, and Waterstone's suggested it was the fastest selling cook book of all time.[4] Smith was relieved by the successful level of sales, saying "you never really know if you're on the right track or not until the public get exposed to it, so because there is a lot of interest I'm very happy."[6]

Several products saw an increase in sales following the launch of the book, including the mashed potato by Aunt Bessie, as well as items by McCain Foods and Heinz Foods.[3] Supermarket chain ASDA said that the sales of frozen chargrilled aubergine slices had increased by 150% due to the book. Smith responded to criticism about naming specific products by saying, "We debated long and hard whether to mention products but at the end of the day this book is for people who are either in a hurry or are afraid to cook. The more information you can give them the easier it is".[4] She explained that she had never undertaken any paid promotion work of any products, saying that "I've never done any advertising because I feel I am in a position of trust, and that has been very liberating. I'm mindful that if you start getting paid, that is sometimes harder."[10]

Fellow chefs raised a hue and cry against the recipes in the book, with several criticising the creation of shepherd's pie using canned mince and frozen mashed potato.[3] Aldo Zilli compared the use of tinned lamb mince to dog food, while Brian Turner suggested that Smith would not eat those products herself. Simon Rimmer said that "Convenience food has its place, but Delia has gone too far with the frozen mashed potato and the tinned meat."[3] Dave Myers, one half of The Hairy Bikers, said that he couldn't conceive how the idea was meant to help with saving time, saying "

Why would you want to use a tin of mince to make shepherd's pie when it really doesn't take very long to brown a pack of fresh mince? And if this is about time-saving, why on earth would you want to go round three supermarkets to buy the ingredients? It is slightly mad.[4]

A variety of comments from the public were collected from the BBC website, including one person asking "Just how time-poor is her new audience supposed to be to have to resort to muck that belongs in a chav's larder?"[3] Also, nutritionists criticised the levels of salt in some of the recipes, but agreed that tinned meat contains similar levels of protein to fresh versions and also keep the original iron content.[11] The group Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said that the recipe for carbonara more than the daily allowance of 6g salt per day because of the use of Pecorino Romano and ready-cooked bacon.[12]


In addition to the Great Recession following the financial crisis of 2007–08, How to Cheat at Cooking was credited with increased sales to tinned products such as baked beans and canned meat such as mince within the UK during the following two years. Vivianne Ihekweazu, of Mintel (a market research company) said that

In 2008 when Delia Smith launched her book How to Cheat at Cooking, some consumers were enraged at the suggestion that tinned mince could be substituted for fresh mince in the recipes. However, it showed consumers the versatility of canned meats and the fact that it could serve as a substitute for fresh meat in recipes – something which appears to have resonated.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d Hastings, Katy (11 February 2008). "Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking causes stir". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  2. ^ "Delia Taught Us in the 70s How to Cheat at Cooking". Western Mail. Questia Online Library. 12 June 2007. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "The demonising of St Delia: How her cheat recipes provoked an extraordinary backlash". The Daily Mail. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Williams, Rachel; Smithers, Rebecca (23 February 2008). "St Delia defends her cheating ways". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  5. ^ Randall, Lee (23 February 2008). "Her cheatin' art". The Scotsman. HighBeam Research. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Delia Smith: Football, fame and cheating at food". BBC Norfolk. 15 February 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  7. ^ "Delia poised to trounce Nigella". Western Mail. HighBeam Research. 15 February 2008. Archived from the original on 17 March 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  8. ^ "Delia's New Series Does Exactly What It Says on the Tin". Coventry Evening Telegraph. Questia Online Library. 1 March 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  9. ^ Byrne, Ciar (21 November 2007). "Delia Smith returns with new cookery show". Belfast Telegraph. HighBeam Research. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Dudley Tells Delia to Dip Her Sticky Fingers into the Bowl of Cream". Western Mail. Questia Online Library. 15 November 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  11. ^ Warren, Jane (April 8, 2008). "Delia: From saint to sinner". The Daily Express. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  12. ^ "Delia's Food Is Too Salty for Our Own Good, Say Doctors". The Birmingham Post. Questia Online Library. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  13. ^ Poulter, Sean (30 April 2010). "Delia Smith's cheat recipes (and the slump) put Fray Bentos back on our tables". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 16 September 2014.

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