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Elizabeth David Papers Coming to the Schlesinger Library

The Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is acquiring the papers of Elizabeth David. The foremost British food writer of her day and author of nine definitive books, David (1913-1992) famously helped reawaken the postwar British palate while educating, through authentic recipes and compelling investigation, a generation of cooks about food and its joys. The collection of David's correspondence, diaries, travel journals, handwritten recipe files, and photographs—which is coming from Jill Norman, the literary trustee of the David estate and David's publisher, editor, and close personal friend—is expected to be available later in the year.

Long acknowledged as the inspiration for such modern masters as Julia Child and Claudia Roden, David studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and lived in France, Italy, Greece, and Egypt—where she worked for the Ministry of Information—during World War II. While abroad she spent much of her time researching and cooking local fare. On her return to London, David wrote cooking articles and published A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950), a passionate mixture of recipes and culinary lore and an introduction to culture as food.

David's first book was followed by French Country Cooking (1951), Italian Food (1954), Summer Cooking (1955), and French Provincial Cooking (1960). She then wrote two books on the traditions of English food: Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen (1970) and English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977), winner of the Glenfiddich Writer of the Year award and, to this day, the definitive book on English baking. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a collection of her work for Vogue, The Spectator, and Nova, was published in 1984, and Is There a Nutmeg in the House? was published posthumously in 2000.

David's contribution to gastronomy was recognized with numerous awards, including the first Andre Simon memorial prize, an Order of the British Empire, and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She also was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite Agricole by the French and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The approximately 100 boxes of materials that make up the Elizabeth David papers contain voluminous correspondence with over 500 well-known authors, editors, chefs, and others in the food industry, including Americans Julia Child, James Beard, Jeremiah Tower, and Alice Waters. The collection also contains eight cartons of David's handwritten recipe files, photographs of David taken by fashion photographer Cecil Beaton, records documenting the history of her books, and David's diaries and travel journals.

"This is a significant acquisition for us," stated Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, the Schlesinger's deputy director and librarian. "We will now be able to make available in one location the papers of those who some consider to be the triumvirate of 20th-century English-speaking food writers: Julia Child, M. F. K. Fisher, and Elizabeth David."

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 19, 2003.