If you are a new cook, this is the one to get. I don't currently own a copy, but I'm intending to inherit my mum's, and meanwhile I can ring her up and get her to read out the recipes.
I have mixed feelings about Delia. My main criticism is that the book uses too many different different sizes of casseroles, cake tins, etc. You'd need a farmhouse kitchen to house the containers to do all the recipes, not the single cupboard that most of us have. Secondly, some of the recipes are not good (use the Dairy Book's recipe for lemon meringue pie, and don't do Delia's chocolate mousse either). Nevertheless, I admit that my copy is dog-eared.
La Varenne Pratique also published as the Reader's Digest Guide to Cookery
Anne Willan is not well enough known in the UK. This is a superb book for the serious cook; it has some recipes, but it concentrates on explaining cooking techniques in detail. I used it to learn how to joint a chicken. I followed its guidance to prepare garden snails for cooking, and I had it open in front of me while I plucked and drew a pair of wood-pigeons and then made a casserole of them with vegetables and herbs from the garden.
Ian consults it every time he wants to boil an egg. I use the jam recipes.
Jocasta Innes is best known for her interior decorating shops, but this is a very good book for the starter cook. It's a great present for someone setting up home for the first time. Unlike Delia, Jocasta does not assume you have the space or the money for huge amounts of kitchen equipment.
Sussex Pond Pudding, Gooseberry Sauce for mackerel, Gooseberry fool. Actually, I'd buy it for the gooseberry recipes alone.
This book is from a 1970's series on Yorkshire TV that showcased regional recipes sent in by the general public. It includes Staffordshire oatcakes, Nottingham gingerbread and so on. These are the real local kitchen recipes, not made over by a TV chef.
by Marcella Hazan
I own the American edition. Widely regarded as the best Italian cookbook in English. I use it constantly. As an Americanised Venetian, Hazan uses very large quantities of salt and butter; I reduce the salt and substitute olive oil for the butter.
A more health conscious Hazan.
by Edward Giobbi
I found this book on a second-hand stall years ago, when I was looking for a book on southern Italian cooking which uses more olive oil and less butter. Giobbi is not a southern Italian, but an Italian-American artist who lived for a while in Tuscany, but I prefer a lot of Giobbi's versions of classic Italian dishes to Hazan's, including his meatball recipes and caponata.
I've just acquired this classic, having coveted it for years. I'm overawed by the size of the book and the number of recipes.
As well as La Varenne Pratique (see General Cooking above), I own three other books by Willan: French Cookery. Chateau Cuisine and Country Cooking of France. She is a marvelous teacher, but she is also a very prolific author, which leads to some repetition. Many of her books are sumptuously illustrated, which makes them expensive and not very practical for use in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I'm a big fan and I prefer following her instructions to Elizabeth David or Julia Child.
The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Everyday Vegetarian and Food Reform Cooking by Clare Bryant
I was a vegetarian until my mid-thirties. These two books were my main cookbooks in the seventies and I still use recipes from them. As far as I know, Clare Bryant never wrote another book, whereas Mollie Katzen is still going strong -- there is now a whole Moosewood library available.
The Edible Flower Garden by Kathy Brown
This very pretty book has given me a lot of fun and the nasturtium and beetroot salad has become one of our summer favourites.