Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery Oral History Project

Interview with Barbara Ketcham Wheaton



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Technological University Dublin


Barbara was born in Philadelphia and after a brief study of Freshwater Biology, she studied Art History in Harvard. She married Bob Wheaton, a historian, and they moved to the Netherlands c. 1958 where they lived for over two years and where she discovered a book called La Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, and started cooking French food. On her return to Cambridge, she got a library ticket for Harvard and started reading the Menagier of Paris treatise on domestic management, which includes a big section on food history, or rather recipes. From here Barbara moved on to Medieval English Cookery books and then German and Italian and had the idea she would write ‘the history of European cookery from the middle ages to the present’. The book she finally published in 1983 was ‘Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789’. She was one of the founding members of the Culinary Historians of Boston. She first attended the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery around 1985 and has been coming nearly every year since. Barbara has always been fascinated with computers and from early days she had been building a database of cookbooks, first on punch cards and now on an elaborate system that she calls ‘the Sifter Project’. This project is based at Harvard University where Barbara is honorary curator of the Arthur Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Barbara has been teaching a course called ‘Reading Historic Cookbooks: A Structured Approach’ for many years in Harvard, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Dublin.

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oral interview, historian, food, publisher, Barbara Ketcham


Arts and Humanities



Interview with Barbara Ketcham Wheaton