The Sophie Coe Prize

The world's best prize for writing on food history

2021 Winner and Commendees Announced!

The winner of the 2021 Sophie Coe Prize was announced and the Prize awarded at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery today. Competition was fierce this year. We received a record number of entries–85.

We congratulate Carl Ipsen, whose essay “From Cloth Oil to Extra Virgin: Italian Olive Oil Before the Invention of the Mediterranean Diet.” is awarded this year’s Prize of £1,500. Professor Ipsen recorded a short video for us, accepting the (as it turned out–literally!) earth-shattering news.

The judges also wished to acknowledge several other outstanding essays from amongst this year’s submissions.

“’Nothing which hunger will not devour’: Disgust and Sustenance in the Northeastern Borderlands” by Carla Cevasco (Highly Commended). 

“The Pleasures of Eating in Early Modern Britain, c. 1550-1800” by Ella Sbaraini (Highly Commended).

From Kitchen Arabic to Recipes for Good Taste: Nation, Empire and Race in Egyptian Cookbooks” by Anny Gaul (Commended).

“Finding Apūpa: Not forgotten, just hidden in plain sight” by Priya Mani (Honourable Mention).

You can read the full Judges’ Report here, and link to past and present winning papers that we are permitted to share on the Winners’ page here.

Sophie Coe Prize 2021: submission deadline April 23rd

The Sophie Coe Prize is awarded each year to an engaging, original piece of writing that delivers new research and/or new insights into any aspect of food history. We welcome entries of up to 10,000 words on any relevant topic. The Prize is £1,500 for the winning essay, article or book chapter. Authors may submit one entry only each, and they must be delivered to us by this year’s closing date of Friday 23rd April 2021.

Please read the “How to Enter” page before submitting your entry (accessible via the menu option above). We also recommend that you follow the other pages linked from the menu to find out what kind of work has been commended by the Judges in past years, and to find out more about Sophie Coe, in whose honour the Prize was founded and is awarded.

The origins of Susanne Belovari’s winning paper, by the author

In spring 1997, in a small university town in the American Midwest, I accepted a job cleaning the house of a psychologist and a professor of classics to earn money to pay for my dissertation copies. As it happened, the family was Orthodox Jewish of Austro-Hungarian and Eastern European background. Because we got along well, eventually we became friends, and because I was quick in learning the requisite kosher rules, they also had me clean and cook for orthodox Pesach (Passover), the most restricted kosher cooking there is. When they asked me, however, to bake some of their typical Pesach desserts, I balked at it. I had grown up in Vienna from the 1960s to1980s eating very traditional Viennese cuisine and its desserts made by my mother, who had been an excellent cook. My mother’s mother had run her own small Viennese coffeehouse until 1920 and so renowned were her apple strudels and other desserts that my much older cousin would bike even from Graz to Vienna in the 1950s to get a piece. My other grandmother had been a pastry chef for an aristocratic family in Graz until the end of World War I. In this kind of family, the recipes handed to me for Pesach desserts were not palatable.

Instead, I leafed through my Viennese grandmother’s handwritten cookbook and my copy of Die Wiener Küche by Olga and Adolf Hess from ca. 1929 and I baked what were our quintessential family Christmas cookies, Haselnußbusserln and a Viennese Veilchentorte (hazelnut cake) among others. None of these dishes needed leavening, flour, or fermentable ingredients which are all prohibited during Pesach, and while Pesach guests were delighted and wanted the recipes, I was left with a puzzle: how was it possible that many of my grandmother’s recipes, menu plans, and those of the archetypical Hess cookbook were applicable to even the strictest Jewish culinary rules without needing any adjustments for kosher cooking? And my next thought was an unsubstantiated leap: was our famous historical Viennese Cuisine perhaps a shared culinary product, practice, and legacy of Viennese Jews and non-Jews alike?

Trying to search for answers led me along paths of archival and historical research as part of which I met many Viennese Holocaust survivors, formed close friendships with them, and learnt from their stories. The context within which I situate my culinary history is deeply influenced by my interdisciplinary background and my work as a former Holocaust restitution historian and archivist for the Jewish Community of Vienna, Austria (IKG), where I rebuilt the historical IKG archives the National Socialists had closed down. If this culinary research helps to unearth, acknowledge, and honor the contributions of Viennese Jews to our Viennese Cuisine, if it helps us see the complexities involved in everyday culture and the most simple of acts, if it helps us to remember and honor the Viennese Jews I met along the way as well as the amazing grandparents on both sides of my family who held on to the humanity of their neighbors, friends, and their own in troubling and dangerous times, then this research served its purpose.


2020 Winner Announced

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 Sophie Coe Prize is Susanne Belovari, for her paper, ‘The Viennese Cuisine before Hitler–‘One Cuisine in the use of Two Nations’”. The judges commented on the “the thoroughness, elegance, and originality of Belovari’s analysis of Wiener Küche…” as well as her extensive use of notes “to keep her narrative clean while at the same time sharing the depth and subtlety of her underlying research.” They concluded that “Belovari’s essay, twenty years in the making, emerges from its long gestation as a powerful work of culinary history, an extraordinary example of how the study of food can pose fundamental questions about the workings of the human heart.” We are delighted to award her this year’s prize of £1,500.

There were seventy (70!) essays entered into the competition this year, a record for the Sophie Coe Prize. The judges commented on several other papers from this year’s submissions, and commended them all for different reasons. We heartily congratulate them all.

First, the Judges commented on the general lack of work on the food of the powerless, and called out for particular attention Markéta Slavková’s “Starving Srebrenica and the Recipes for Survival in the Bosnian War (1992-1995)” and Ayfer Erkul’s “Food refusal as a protest tool. Hunger strikes in Belgian prisons during the interwar period.”

Next, they commented on the use of archaeobotany and experimental archaeology to solve basic, previously unsatisfactorily answered, questions of culinary history. Adeline Bats’ ”The Production of Bread in Conical Moulds at the Beginning of the Middle Kingdom. The Contribution of Experimental Archaeology” and Mennat-Allah El Dorry’s “Forbidden, Sprouted, Stewed: An Archaeobotanical and Historical Overview of Fava Beans in Ancient Egypt” were singled out for particular praise on this front.

Finally, there were numerous more traditional essays on culinary history, with the following bringing “valuable insights to their studies” and being a pleasure to read: Rebecca Earle’s “Potatoes and the pursuit of Happiness”; Vicky Hayward’s ““And in the morning the cook… shall go to his kitchen”: Juan Altamiras’ New Art of Cookery, and its Defining Influence on Modern Spanish Cooking”; Fanny Louvier’s “Maid in the Kitchen: Female Domestic Servants and Food Businesses in France, 1900-1939”; Helen Pfeifer’s “The Gulper and the Slurper: a Lexicon of Mistakes to Avoid While Eating with Ottoman Gentlemen”; and Simon Werrett’s “Physics and Fruitcakes: Food Thrift and Experiment in the Early Modern”.

To read the full Judges’ Report, click here. To read the winning and commended works, please visit our Winners’ page, where links are posted as soon as we are able or permitted to do so.

Sophie Coe Prize 2020: one week left

There is one week left in the Sophie Coe Prize competition. Since we have waived the requirement for paper copies this year, you can make use of these last few days to finish getting your entry into shape.

As always, please read our How to Enter page carefully before submitting. We look forward to receiving your entries.

Stay safe and well, everyone.

Sophie Coe Prize entries 2020: three weeks to go!

There are three more weeks to go before the 2020 Sophie Coe Prize submission deadline of Friday 24th April 2020 (midnight GMT). Note that due to the exceptional situation we are all in this year, we have waived the requirement for paper copies to be sent through the mail. All other terms of entry remain the same.

Whether your submission is almost ready or you’re only just getting started, now would be a good time to make sure you have read the updated How to Enter page in detail. Do make sure you are aware of and following all of the guidelines closely.

Happy writing. We hope that it is a welcome and pleasurable distraction in these strange times, and we look forward to receiving your entries as soon as you are ready.

Update to 2020 Entry Requirements – Print Copies no Longer Required

In the current extraordinary situation, we have decided to waive our usual requirement for entrants to send paper copies of their Sophie Coe Prize entries through the mail.

All other entry requirements still apply, and the closing date of 24th April 2020 remains the same. All electronic entries must be received by midnight GMT on that day.

As ever, full details, including the email address for submissions, can be found on the How to Enter page.

Please do all stay safe and well.

Entries welcomed for the 2020 Prize competition

220px-Sophie_dobzhanskyThe Sophie Coe Prize is awarded each year to an engaging, original piece of writing that delivers new research and/or new insights into any aspect of food history. We welcome entries of up to 10,000 words on any relevant topic. The Prize is £1,500 for the winning essay, article or book chapter. Authors may submit one entry only each, and they must be delivered to us by this year’s closing date of 25th April 2020.

The Prize was founded in 1995 in memory of Sophie Coe, the eminent anthropologist and food historian. The winner is selected by our anonymous panel of distinguished judges and announced in early July.

Published and unpublished work may be submitted. If the former, it must have been published within 12 months of the submission deadline. If the latter, it must be in immediately publishable form.

Before submitting an entry please read in full the “How to Enter” page at our website. Entries that do not comply fully with our conditions of entry will not be put forward to our judges. We also advise entrants to read some of the former winning entries to get a good understanding of the kind of original research work we are seeking.

Here at our website you can read all about the Prize past and present, and sign up for reminders and updates. Any queries not answered by the information on our website should be addressed to the Chair via our contact form.

2019 Winner Announced

birthday lunch (2)
Malcolm F. Thick at his 70th birthday lunch, 2019.

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2019 Sophie Coe Prize is Malcolm Thick, for his informative and original paper, ‘The Sale of Produce from Non-Commercial Gardens in Late Medieval and Early Modern England.’ The judges commented that Thick’s work offers “new insights into one of the mysteries of food in the British Isles: the supply of vegetables, historically, in English food,” revealing through careful scholarship the true place of vegetables in the historic British diet.

The judges also highly commended one essay, “Under the Cover of Savory Vapors–Opossums, Power and Jim Crow Politics” by Stephanie N. Bryan, commenting that this ‘surprising piece of culinary history’ about the custom of hunting and cooking opossums in the southern USA and its manipulation by early 20th century politicians was well researched and well told.

The Prize was announced and presented at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery on Sunday 14th July, where the judges’ report was read. Thick was unable to attend and receive the Prize in person, but sent a statement of thanks:

I am sorry that a throat and chest infection prevents me from attending this year’s Symposium.

I am delighted [and surprised] to hear I have been awarded the 2019 Sophie Coe prize. Looking through the list of previous winners, I see I am in distinguished company. The money will be used to pay some of the expenses of my latest project – a biography of the eighteenth-century agricultural journalist and writer on country food and medicine, William Ellis. Incidentally, I was awarded a subsidiary Sophie Coe prize in 2000 for my introduction to a new edition of Ellis’s Country Housewife’s Family Companion of 1750.

I warmly thank the panel of judges and the Trustees for awarding me this prize.

Thank you to all 40 individuals who entered work in this year’s Prize competition, and hearty congratulations to our winner and our high commendee.

2019 Prize deadline: April 26th

Entries for the Sophie Coe Prize in food history – £1,500 for the best essay or book chapter submitted to the competition – are due in by 26th April 2019. Click on “How to Enter” above for full details about the kind of work we are looking for, the form of entry, and where to submit your copies to.

We also recommend that entrant read some of the previous winners’ work, in order to understand what the Judges are looking for. Click on “Winners, 1995-2018” above for a full list and links to those we are able to publish on our site.