Judges’ Report – 2004

What kind of year was it for the Sophie Coe Prize? A fabulous year, just like all the others. But this year a particularly impressive group of essays. Impressive in their number – 16, not a record but a healthy crop. In their scholarship. In their almost universal reliance upon primary sources. In their wide range of subjects, from the botanical to the nutritional to the bibliographical. Grazing, so to speak, among the entires, one could get a clear tastes of angelica, Anglo-Indian attitudes in the kitchen and amniotic fluid as a preculinary – and predental – foundation of taste.

Several forays into English gastronomical nostalgia provided a welcome balance to the perennial American self-examinations (of which tere were some more quite interesting examples int eh current batch). The most remarkable of these doughty efforts to preserve knowledge and the edible survival of endangered foods came to us from Germany. Wherefore this year’s Coe prize goes to Ursula Heinzelmann for Spreewaldgurken: Pickled Cucumbers from the Spreewald. The Spree is Berlin’s river, and it flows through a watery fenland called Lausitz, inhabited by a Slavic enclave of 60,000 speakers of Sorbian. Linguistic and ethnic fascinations aside, the saga of these local pickles enfolds within it a little-known chapter of the Cold War’s effect on a swampy corner of East Germany, a cautionary tale about the dangers of success in the food world, and, of course, a recipe for a most excellent gherkin.

The judges also wish to single out another essay for honourable mention. In the general spirit of cherishing the past as it lingers in the present, we honour Jane Levi for A Surreptitious Snack: The Evolution of Elevenses. Etymological as well as sturdily grounded in such records as the Marchioness of Bath’s memoir Before the Sunset Fades, this paper traces the growth of an institution in England and compares it to similar in-between meals in other cultures.

The Sophie Coe Prize: £1250 to Ursula Heinzelmann

Subsidiary award: £500 to Jane Levi