Campus & Community

Schlesinger Library gets David papers:

3 min read

British food writer inspired modern American masters

The Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is acquiring the Elizabeth David papers. The foremost British food writer of her day and author of nine definitive books, David, who was born in 1913 and died in 1992, 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.

The Elizabeth David papers will add to the Schlesinger Library’s unparalleled culinary collections, which currently include the Julia Child papers, the MFK Fisher papers, and more than 16,000 cookbooks.

Long acknowledged as the inspiration for such modern masters as 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.

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 Glenfidditch 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.

In 1965, David reduced her writing activities to establish the Elizabeth David Kitchen Shop in London. She severed her ties with the shop in 1973, but went on to bring improved cooking equipment and kitchen tools to department stores in England.

David’s contribution to the gastronomic arts 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 government and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The approximately 100 boxes of materials that make up the Elizabeth David papers document her long career. The collection contains voluminous correspondence with over 500 well-known authors, editors, chefs, and others in the food industry, including 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, diaries, travel journals, and records documenting the history of her books.

For more information about the Elizabeth David papers, call (617) 495-8648, or visit