Pam Rhodes explains how, with the help of Delia Smith, she has tricked her children into thinking that she is a good cook.

Broadcaster and journalist Pam Rhodes has been presenting Songs of Praise since 1987. She has also written seven novels. Her new book Casting the Net is out now.

The Penguin Book of Hymns Edited by Ian Bradley

It might look like an academic tome, but when I first discovered this collection of the 150 best-loved hymns in 1990, my enthusiasm for them (established during my years with Songs of Praise) became a passion. Bradley unearthed the character and situation of each hymn’s writer so that, even though centuries separate us, I could identify with the emotions they were probably going through as they wrote. The music is fascinating too, as often it is the well-known melody that makes the words unforgettable. Bradley has written several other books on subjects such as Christmas carols and Victorian hymns, and I’ve loved them all.

Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course

There must be thousands of copies of this book on kitchen shelves, each looking just like mine—dog-eared, covered in old cake mixture, with almost every other page turned down at the corner to remind me where to find favourite recipes. I reckon I must have bought my copy in 1978, when it was first published, and it transformed my culinary repertoire. Delia writes in such a down-to-earth way that never patronises or assumes a level of knowledge that’s probably not there—so the complete beginner can be led by the nose to a cookery triumph! I’ve made copious amounts of her rich fruit cake and Christmas pudding every December since. My kids all think I’m a great cook—but I don’t let on that it was really Delia that did it!

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I have a treasured hardback copy, signed by Follett. The story is huge, complicated and extensively researched, and based around the building of a 12th-century English cathedral. I can’t count the times I’ve sat in grand churches during recordings of Songs of Praise wondering how on earth, centuries ago and without modern technology, they managed to put in such huge windows without them cracking, or kept the heavy arched roof from crashing to the ground. Now I know! I’ve looked at church architecture in a new way since getting to know the characters in The Pillars of the Earth as they designed, built, lived—and sometimes died—for Kingsbridge Cathedral.

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