Judges’ Report – 2017

The quality of entries for the Sophie Coe Prize seems to get better every year, not only in terms of scholarship but also of readability. It was a pleasure to read all 21 entries, two fewer than in the last two years, all original, informative and engaging. The extent to which they represented new research or offered new insights – one of the criteria for the Prize – was less consistent, some of the essays reading more like literature reviews.

Geographically, most entries focused on the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. Notable exceptions were a discussion of Georgian feasts for the dead, and a comparison of the motivations and careers of two generations of students at the City Cooking School in Guangzhou, China: those who trained during the Maoist era and those who studied post-Mao. Contemporary themes attracted considerable interest, such as qualifications for intangible cultural heritage; the evolution of the term ‘artisan’ to become a brand word; the trend towards standardisation of fruits and vegetables and consequent food waste; the rise of superfoods; and the imposing and rescinding of bans on the eating of offal.

The judges particularly appreciated Hongyan Yang’s essay on the adjustments and adaptations in domestic culinary practices by Hmong migrants in America, which demonstrated the importance of studying not only foods cooked and culinary techniques used but also the organisation of the cooking space. We felt this essay deserves to be recognised with an Honourable Mention.

Each of the judges independently selected two essays as contenders for the Prize; by a curious coincidence, both employed linguistics as an investigative tool. In one, Anthony Buccini seems to have finally solved the puzzle of the origins of the famous Louisiana dish jambalaya, finding an antecedent – to the name as well as the dish – in a most unlikely place, southern France. He speculates that among the French colonists in Louisiana were some from Provence and Languedoc who brought with them a peasant dish known in nineteenth-century Provençal as jambaraia or jambalaia. Mary-Anne Boermans’ investigation began with an apparently simple question about English food: what is the difference between a crumpet and a pikelet? This puzzle was even more complex, with two distinct baked items sharing a single name. Recourse to many nineteenth-century regional glossaries and dialect dictionaries proved that the pikelet of the northern counties resembled a bread-like cake, while in the midlands to the south it was more like a crumpet. This is only the beginning of her unravelling of the mystery, in which she traces the origins of the northern pikelet to seventeenth-century Wales.

Faced with two outstanding essays, the judges had an extremely difficult task, the terms of the prize stipulating only a single winner. Our decision was unanimous. We agreed that Anthony Buccini’s essay be rewarded with High Commendation. It is published in the 2016 Symposium Proceedings.

So, on the basis of originality, thoroughness of research and lucidity of explanation, the 2017 Sophie Coe Prize is awarded to Mary-Anne Boermans. We congratulate Mary-Anne and trust that her essay will quickly find publication and a large readership.

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