Judges’ Report – 2022

We were struck by the generally high standard of entries. There was much original research, many exhaustive investigations, over a range of topics stretching from the dawn of the Christian era to the present day. We were encouraged by the fact that most entries revolved around tangible histories as opposed to vain speculation, and further approval was obtained by the pleasing absence of excessive academic solipsism, conceding, of course, the necessity for recognition of parallels and comparisons in other scholars’ works.

Our chosen winner, ‘Sweet Femininities: Women and the Confectionery Trade in Eighteenth-Century Barcelona’ by Marta Manzanares Mileo, is a delightful examination not only of the automatic association of sweet, sugary foods with feminine and infantile preferences and taste, but also of the practical association of women with the production of sweet goods in early-modern Barcelona. Of course, these women, be they nuns or widows of former confectioners, often fell foul of the stringent regulation of commerce through the guild system. But eventually, women gained their point as the guilds were disempowered as the eighteenth century wore on. The author makes good use of her sources – wide-ranging and convincing; there is a relevance that stretches far beyond the boundaries of Barcelona itself; and the essay addresses issues that are the stuff of contemporary discourse. Food, here, is indeed the mirror of life.

Our choice for the essay that deserves to be highly commended is ‘“When cheifest Rebell feede”: food, fosterage and fear in early modern Ireland’ by Madeline Shanahan. Here, the author considers the relationship between food and identity in the sensitive situation that was early-modern Ireland where a new set of invaders were overlaying not only the indigenous customs and population, but also those of the first wave of Anglo-Norman invaders who had arrived in the high Middle Ages. All the tropes of derision, contempt and condemnation of the new for the old are described and most interestingly accounted for, but the custom that attracts most curiosity is that of wet nurse fosterage whereby an infant is nursed by an adoptive mother and then kept within the adoptive family for several years, thus enhancing social and emotional bonds. When the Anglo-Norman children were thus adopted by Gaelic aristocratic families, the result is (so far as the second wave of invaders was concerned) an unhealthy fusion and intermingling, going native. The symbolism of mother’s milk, paralleled in many other circumstances, is powerful indeed. This essay was well structured, full of elegant acumen – most excellent.

Two entries deserve to be commended. The first, ‘The Italian Coffee Triangle: From Brazilian Colonos to Ethiopian Colonialisti’ by Diana Garvin takes Fascist Italy as its subject, ever a fecund area for the study of food policy. But it begins with Italian involvement in the Brazilian coffee trade as it sent so many colonists to the New World after the abolition of slavery to work the coffee plantations of southern Brazil. New colonists were also to be sent to work coffee plantations, with very mixed results, in the new colony of Ethiopia and the author then develops the wider ramifications of this project with an examination of coffee publicity and coffee consumption in Italy itself.

The second commended essay, ‘Re-localising food in the nineteenth century: watercress, place, and purity’ by Rebecca Ford, is illustration, if such is needed, of the truism that everything has its history – in this case watercress. The central concern is the watercress beds and pleasure gardens developed in Gravesend in the nineteenth century and the capital’s watercress trade, centred on Farringdon Street Market. The account is full of interest and, literal, curiosity while the wider points of our preoccupation with the origin of foodstuffs and the existence of an incipient food tourism are well made.

Two further entries are deserving of special mention: ‘The Inconvenience of Chocolate: Disciplining The Society of Jesus in Seventeenth-Century Mexico’ by Danielle Terrazas Williams, and ‘Maya Gastropolitik’ by Shanti Morell-Hart. The first is very focussed and well-expressed account of the centralising Society of Jesus and the attempts of successive Superior Generals in Rome to control the consumption of chocolate by the Jesuits in Mexico, not only because of its implications of unsavoury, un-Christian practices, but also for its indication of a falling-off from strict Jesuit observance. The second is a remarkable examination of the place of food in the statecraft of Mayan rulers in early Mexico. Drawing on iconographic, archaeological and paleobotanical evidence, the essay is a tour de force in its range and conclusions.

We congratulate all of the authors and thank them for their entries.