Judges’ Report – 2012

The panel of judges for the Sophie Coe Prize in Food History received 22 submissions to consider this year, of which there were several which stood out for particular discussion.  At the end of their deliberations they agreed that the winner of this year’s prize is the essay “Food on the Move” by Di Murrell.

Murrell’s piece stands out on several counts, as indicated by each of the judges, one of whom wrote:

“This paper opened a window into a now forgotten world of the canals which once served as the veins through which the commerce of the country flowed.  ‘Food On The Move’ brought the canals and boat people alive through their distinctive ways of eating, illustrating the power of food to evoke the past and reveal the very heart of a culture.  While it deals with canals in England, it opens up possibilities of studies of this kind in other countries and cultures, on different kinds of crafts – an area that has so far been overlooked in food history.  The detail is absolutely marvellous. This paper is in the great tradition of Florence White and Dorothy Hartley, but more historical and ethnographic. It is living history, a true contribution to culinary scholarship.”

A second judge commented:

“This one caught all of the judges’ eyes. It is an entertaining, original and catchy account of food habits on the canal boats of England’s inland waterways. It is a tale well told, full of interesting snippets collected from the author’s own experience and the anecdotal memories of retired boat people, with the prize being a glorious malapropism from a canal veteran who preferred to use ‘condemned’ milk rather than the ‘dilapidated’ variety for making custard.”

The third judge offered the following observations:

“Though the subject treated in Murrell’s essay is limited in scope, the essay is extremely engaging and the reader is ultimately rewarded with a fascinating, as well as entertaining, glimpse into the foodways of a small and marginalised segment of modern Britain’s population, people who within living memory had maintained a remarkably archaic set of strategies to procure and prepare their daily sustenance.  The strength of the writing, the value of the historical material presented, and the degree to which this essay might serve as an example for others to capture similarly overlooked foodways that might otherwise soon pass into oblivion — these qualities together render Murrell’s paper a deserving winner.”

While this year’s number of submissions was a good bit greater than last year’s, the judges agreed that we should urge those attending the symposium to submit appropriate pieces on food history and to publicise the prize among others whom they know who are actively working in the field, bearing in mind that submissions should be polished works of the highest quality, as exemplified by the writings on food history of the late Sophie Coe herself.