About Jane Levi & Silphium Food

Jane 2 ML - Version 2I am a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London, where I recently completed the PhD I started with the London Consortium. I am currently researching and writing about food and utopias, in particular food for space travel, but my food-related interests are wide and often historical, so I am also working on a project with the Foundling Museum, London, on Foundling food from 1740-1960. I enjoy practical experimentation (otherwise known as recipe reading and cookery) alongside my research, which is why I decided to start this blog as a way of thinking aloud about some of my adventures with food.

drawing by Jake Tilson

When I left my last full-time job in the City of London in 2009 I set up a consultancy to manage my new and varied working life. I named it after a culinary and medicinal plant called Silphium, prized by the ancients and now extinct. Silphium, which only exists in images on ancient Cyrene (Libyan) coins and in Roman texts, represents for me all that is tantalising about the history of food. We can try to imagine what silphium was like, and we’ll never be quite sure, but we (or at least I) don’t stop wondering or wanting to find out. Food is so much in the present – experienced through the senses, absorbed into every human being – that it must be an equally important part of the past. I believe that thinking about its history, or using food as ‘an object to think with’, can tell us a huge amount about culture, events, taste and daily life. So, my work is all about the fun of the chase for meaning as it relates to the history and culture of food.

This site, Silphium Food, is the place where I share all of my food-related thoughts – recipes, experiments, history, questions and ideas. Do get in touch with me to tell me what you think.

If you are looking for something more serious, or are interested in commissioning some research work from me, please visit my company site, Silphium Consulting.

11 thoughts on “About Jane Levi & Silphium Food”

  1. Hi Jane, it was wonderful to meet you in Sydney this week and discover your work. I hope you weren’t too travel weary to enjoy the plum pudding workshop. Regards Jacqui


  2. Hi Jane,
    I was in London at the weekend and managed to catch some of your talk regarding the feeding 400 show at The Foundling Hospital. Unfortunately I had to leave before the end in order to catch my train back up north -I was just wondering if you recorded the interview or if you had a transcript. The bit I heard I found it fascinating thank you


    1. Hi Rachel, thanks so much! I did try to record it but at some point the recorder decided its memory was full, which I didn’t know until the very end… I will have some time this afternoon to listen back and see how much of it has been preserved and let you know…


  3. Hi Jane,

    I stumbled across your blog sometime a year or two ago while doing research on Charles Fourier and was totally delighted by it. I’ve long been interested in the theme of utopia, but the idea of utopia + food must have lodged in my brain because I’m now working on my own project focused around that intersection.

    I co-run a micropress called STUDIUM/punctum – mostly we put out short run zines and pamphlets of our own writing. It’s more or less a hobby and labor of love at the moment. Currently I’m putting together a very short (~30 pages) anthology of some utopian food writing. There will be excerpts from Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, Campanella’s City of the Sun, More’s Utopia, FT Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurist Cooking, and some info about Cockaigne, the Ephrata Cloister, Fruitlands, and Biosphere 2. But the centerpiece will be excerpts from Fourier.

    I’m commenting here because I wanted to ask if I could include your Mirliton recipe in the anthology – with credit to you, of course! I would be happy to send you a few copies of the completed pamphlet.

    Please let me know by email if this interests you, and feel free to ask any questions you might have. Thanks!



  4. I adore your site! I first read your post on salt-cured egg yolks (before reading your bio here), and what struck me most is the lyrical quality of your writing…and the fact that you speak actual English. Lo and behold- you are not only British, but studied English Lit. Ah, so refreshing to read *real* English…(I say that as an American living in the land of hipster-slang. I really miss the English language. It is generally not spoken here anymore- especially not in *blog land*.) Love your writing- love your food! (see?) I also loved learning about silphium! (I’m sure you’ve read A History of Food in 100 Recipes…)


    1. You are much too kind! Thank you. And yes, I do have William Sitwell’s book, given to me by some very thoughtful colleagues when I finished a consulting job. I like it – but I’m more of an Oxford Companion to Food girl at heart.


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