My friend and colleague, the food historian Laura Mason has died of cancer aged 63.
Laura was an accomplished cook, a writer and an eminent food historian. Her most notable work Traditional Foods of Britain (in collaboration with Catherine Brown) is an inventory of some 400 traditional foods, their origins, history and production. In a work of impressive scholarship, Laura reported on everything from kippers to kale, Bath buns to Borrowdale tea bread, pork pies, stuffed chine, ham and haslet. It is an invaluable reference for anyone interested in the origins of British food.
Laura grew up on a dairy farm in Wharfedale but spent her adult life in her beloved York. She studied Home Economics and was an excellent cook, but it was the origins and history of food that became her passion.
Two of her books, Sugar Plums and Sherbert and Sweets and Sweetshops cover the history of sugar and confectionary. Farmhouse Cookery is a collection of writings and recipes gathered from the tenants of National Trust farms. She made countless contributions to other publications, was a founder member of Slow Food North Yorkshire and a regular contributor to the Leeds Food Symposium.
From time to time Laura would accompany me to review a restaurant where she always had something interesting or fun to say about our dinner. I remember too, Laura inviting me to a Leeds Food Symposium to show an old film of my Grandma making a hand raised pork pie. Laura went on to give a delightful paper on the unsung pleasures of lard.
Hattie Ellis a colleague and member of the Guild of Food Writers, has written warmly about Laura and Traditional Foods in Britain: ‘The book has been on my close-to-hand reference shelf for 20 years and I had fun driving Laura around a small part of it on quests for the likes of Yorkshire oatcakes and Berwick cockles (a sweet not a shellfish). Laura had a gleam in her eye, a rigour that unearthed our real culinary gold and a generosity to her fellow food writers. She cared about what matters…she will be much missed.’
She leaves husband Derek and sisters Agnes and Ruth.