THE SOPHIE COE PRIZE 2020
Sophie and Michael Coe are best known for their 1996 classic, The True History of Chocolate, but their names are also linked with new food history writing via the Sophie Coe Prize. Awarded annually since 1995, when Michael launched the prize in memory of his wife, it recognises “original, informative” essays growing around research by independents or academics working in any discipline within food history. Sophie Coe herself was an anthropologist and Michael Coe a preeminent scholar of Mayan and pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. Hence, perhaps, the Prize’s knack for harvesting groundbreaking research. Anthropology, archaeology and demography as well as economic, cultural and oral history have all yielded significant essays, as revealed by the Prize’s lists of commended writing. In 2020, a record number of candidate essays – close to six dozen – were submitted, thanks in part, perhaps, to Covid’s confinements. Certainly that’s how I found much-needed time to write up the methodologies behind the recreation of Altamiras’s book. One may contextualise New Art autobiographically, or as an expression of cultural and social history, but the specifics of geography, like those of climate change, also need consideration alongside the economics of mendicant alms collection and early modern Spain’s evolving popular kitchens. Exceptionally, in the case of Altamiras, a dovetailed microhistory was possible thanks to the wealth of sources, especially those describing everyday friary life. But I was also keen to fulfil the premises of the original book, recreating it for cooks who wanted to play with the origins of today’s flavours and methods, rather than writing only for academics. Hence the importance of some experiments with Kiko Moya. It was a huge surprise some months after sending in the essay anonymously to discover it highly commended by the judges, and the honour was repeated when Petits Propos Culinaires, the world’s longest running food history magazine, invited me to publish the full 10,000 word English original in autumn 2020, so allowing me to share the thinking behind the book with cooks and readers everywhere.