Vanilla: Anything But Boring


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  • This event has taken place
  • Tel: +44 (0)1937 546546
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  • Admission: Free entry

The story of one of the world’s great flavours

This is an online only event hosted on the British Library platform. Bookers will be sent a viewing link shortly before the event and will be able to watch at any time for 48 hours after the start time.

This event will be live captioned. 

Join food historians Katie Sampeck and Rebecca Earle as they unpack the remarkable history of vanilla.

Now often synonymous with pure, boring and unexciting, vanilla has a long story, just as stimulating as its dark twin, chocolate. Using historical sources from the British Library’s collections, Katie and Rebecca explore the evidence for, and changes in, vanilla’s meanings and uses in the Early Modern world. 

They look at the significance the indigenous people of Central America and Mexico attached to the ‘black flower’, and then consider how these uses and meanings changed as this precious ingredient moved east across the Atlantic and into European foods.

The discussion is chaired by food writer, Sue Quinn.

Rebecca Earle is a historian, specialising in the history of food and colonial and 19th-century Spanish America. She is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Warwick, and a Fellow of the British Academy. Her most recent book is Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Sue Quinn is an award-winning food writer and cookbook author. She regularly writes for the BBC, the Telegraph, Sunday Times and delicious. magazine, and her recipes have appeared in all of the leading British food publications. Sue has written 14 cookbooks and her latest, Cocoa: an exploration of chocolate, with recipes, was published in 2019 to widespread acclaim. She is currently working on a biography of food writer Florence White.

Kathryn Sampeck is a Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University, an Associate with the DuBois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and a Board Member of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute. She was a 2020-21 Fulbright Scholar at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. A special focus of her archaeological and archival research is the cultural history of chocolate.

This event is organised by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. The Eccles Centre exists to support and promote creative research and lifelong learning about the Americas, through the world-class collections of the British Library.

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Name: Vanilla: Anything But Boring
Where: British Library St Pancras
When: -
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546