The Culinary Historians of Boston is the oldest circle of culinary historians in the US. Our members are academics, chefs, writers, food professionals, and hobby cooks, as well as students of cuisine, women's studies, history (ancient, medieval, and modern), agriculture, and politics.
To contact us, email: firstname.lastname@example.org (spaces added to evade spammers), or click the words "Contact Us" to the upper left, or click the picture of two girls writing a letter.
Dear Members and friends,
Happy New Year 2023. May it be filled with culinary adventures!
On a lovely spring day in May of 1980, a group of friends and acquaintances met for a picnic under a maple tree in Radcliffe Yard in Cambridge. There they shared brown bag lunches and made history.
This was the genesis of the group that was to become the Culinary Historians of Boston, the first culinary history organization in the United States.
The founders were Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, whose award-winning book Savoring the Past was published in 1983 and is still in print and in use; Joyce Toomre, whose Classic Russian Cooking, published in 1992, became a classic in the field; and Ann Robert, owner with her husband Lucien of Boston’s most renowned French restaurant, Maison Robert. The three women believed that the study of food history was a valuable intellectual pursuit, despite the skepticism of most academics at the time.
The group began meeting at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library where Curator of Printed Books Barbara Haber was beginning to acquire a formidable collection of food-related materials. Again, this was a controversial practice in that era’s academic environment.
Today, culinary history groups exist from New York to Ann Arbor to Los Angeles. Libraries collect the books and the papers of chefs, food writers, and restaurateurs. And the study of food and food history is considered a perfectly acceptable major at most universities.
Over the years, membership in the Culinary Historians of Boston grew, and its newsletters reached a wide audience from outside the area. The group hosted meetings featuring many of the world’s most influential culinary voices. They included Ken Albala, Virginia Bartlett, Alan Davidson, Betty Fussell, Darra Goldstein, Karen Hess, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Sheryl Julian, Madeleine Kamman, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Zarcla Martinez, Ellen Messer, Marion Nestle, Nawal Nasrallah, Sandra Oliver, Andrew F. Smith, Rebecca Spang, and many others.
In the spring of most years, the group held banquets based on particular geographic regions and time periods, from the Italian Renaissance to the Raj to the Austro-Hungarian empire. CHB members researched the foods of the era, planned the menus, prepared and served the foods, and delighted their guests.
The Culinary Historians of Boston was a model for organizations all over the country.
But membership has fallen off in recent years. When the pandemic struck, meetings had to be held online rather than in-person, which also lessened participation. At the same time, many board members were ready to retire and hand their responsibilities to the next generation. However, the next generation has not stepped forward.
So, with enormous regret, the president and board have decided to suspend activities as of the end of 2022. Those who have paid their 2022-2023 dues will receive a letter regarding reimbursement. It is possible that some Boston-area culinary historians will gather, perhaps for a picnic, as our three originators did, and that they will breathe new life into the organization. But failing that, 2022 will mark our last year.
President, Agni Thurner
Board of Directors,
Jeri Quinzio, Barbara Wheaton, Madonna Berry, Barbara Rotger, Nancy Stutzman, Anne Faulkner, Anita Denly, Joe Carlin, Judy Kales, Sarah Boardman, Chitrita Banerji, Roz Cummins.