The Sophie Coe Prize

The world's best prize for writing on food history

Category: Winner

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.

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.

2016 winner announced

Congratulations to Susanna Forrest, the winner of the 2016 Sophie Coe Prize for “Horsemeat is Certainly Delicious”: Anxiety, Xenophobia and Rationalism at a Nineteenth-Century American Hippophagic Banquet. Forrest’s essay is a chapter in the collection Equine Cultures: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity, 1700–Present, edited by Kristen Guest and Monica Mattfeld, to be published by the University of Chicago Press.

The judges were unanimous in awarding Forrest the £1,500 prize, which was presented to her at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery on Saturday 9th July. They described her essay as “a really enjoyable and accessible paper, with a compelling analysis of the historical phenomenon of hippophagy (eating horses) and attitudes towards it, well-contextualised and ranging from Neolithic Europe and Asia to 20th century New York”.

The judges also all singled out for special mention Anthony Buccini’s Defining cuisine: communication, culinary grammar and the typology of cuisine, which they said “succeeds in making a serious paper about theory readable and entertaining”. Buccini’s paper is published in the 2015 Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.

In addition, all the judges commended Robert Dirks’ African Americans and soul foods which they said “overturns current concepts of the diet of late 19th and early 20th century African American communities”. It is published as Chapter 3 in his book Foods of the Gilded Age, What Ordinary Americans Ate (2016)

We thank all entrants to the Prize competition this year, and congratulate our winner, Susanna Forrest, in particular. You can read the judges’ full report, including commentary on other notable entries, here.

2014 Winners Announced

The Sophie Coe Prize 2014 was awarded at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery on Saturday 12th July.

Van Dyk makes his acceptance speech (with Jane Levi and Andrew Coe behind)

With a record-breaking number of entries – 39 – the judges had their work cut out, but were delighted to select a clear winner in Garritt Van Dyk. His essay, ‘Méthode Anglaise: Transnational Exchange and the Origins of Champagne’ impressed them by combining “the twists and turns of a detective story with thorough and deep research to reach a startling conclusion” – that the creation of champagne owed more to British technology than to the legendary Dom Perignon. Garritt Van Dyk is therefore the 2014 winner and was presented with the £1,500 prize by Andrew Coe.

The judges also singled out three further submissions for commendation. Charmaine O’Brien‘s ‘Text For Dinner: Plain food in colonial Australia …or was it?’; Peter Beck’s ‘Tasting a Neighborhood: a Food History of Manhattan’s Lower East Side’; and Anya von Bremzen‘s chapter ‘The Last Days of the Czars’ from Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food, Family and Longing.

We heartily congratulate all four of the commended writers.

To read the winning essays visit the Winners page, where you can also read the full Judges’ Report.

Sophie Coe Prize 2013 – winners announced

On Saturday 6 July the winners of the 2013 Sophie Coe Prize were announced at the plenary session of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.

Our congratulations go to Barak Kushner, this year’s winner, for Slurping Towards Modernity: The Birth of an Iconic Japanese National Dish. This fascinating, well-researched history of the complex factors in the rise of ramen during Japan’s quest for modernisation was full of enthusiasm and interest. Drawn from otherwise unavailable sources, this was the obvious choice for our judges, and deservedly takes the £1,500 prize.

The judges also enjoyed Paul Brewin’s The Dutch Way; Dutch Recipes in English Cookery Books of the 17th and 18th Centuries, which used a wide range of sources to ask a question not usually addressed in studies of European cuisine – what about the Dutch? The judges Highly Commended this impressive piece.

David BerissRed Beans and Rebuilding: an Iconic Dish, Memory and Culture In New Orleans also stood out as a rich and wide-ranging ethnography drawn from an imaginative variety of sources, and was Commended.

We thank everyone who entered this year, and celebrate our winners. We hope you’ll join us in congratulating them, and encourage an even wider range of entries next year. Follow this blog to stay up to date!