Judges’ Report – 2011

This year’s entries for the Sophie Coe Prize produced several outstanding papers.  Among these – an indication of the diverse subject-matter the prize attracts – the judges would like to Commend Michael Twitty for his study of African foodways in the state of Virginia; Sara Beatriz Guardia for her explorations into ancestral memories of the potato in Peru; Mairtin Mac Con Iomaire for his plea for a record of the spoken word in Culinary Voices, perspectives from Dublin restaurants; Rosella Ceccarini for her examination of culinary globalization as demonstrated by the popularity of pizza-parlours in Japan; and Eric Rath for his study of formal dining in late medieval and early modern Japan.

Our winner, however, is Eileen White for her beautifully-constructed who-done-it “On Watty’s birthday, a gentry family celebrates in 1763”.

In the words of one of the judges, “This is a little jewel of a piece, bridging the gap between the ideal menus found in cookbooks and information on how particular meals were enjoyed in real life. This sort of micro-history is of increasing importance to us as we strive to make further progress at the broader historical level in food studies.”

Although the subject-matter might seem of minor importance and authorial ambition modest, this pioneering work fulfils the central requirement of the prize, providing new insights into existing knowledge – and by so doing confirming the value of meticulous scholarship and, not least among scholarly virtues, telling a story as absorbing as any detective novel.