Helen Leach

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Helen Leach

Helen Leach ONZM (cropped).jpg
Leach in 2018
Helen May Keedwell

(1945-07-03) 3 July 1945 (age 77)
Wellington, New Zealand
Alma materUniversity of Otago
RelativesNancy Tichborne (sister)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Otago
Doctoral advisorCharles Higham

Helen May Leach ONZM (née Keedwell; born 3 July 1945) is a New Zealand academic specialising in food anthropology. She is currently a professor emerita at the University of Otago.[1][2]

Early life and family[edit]

Born Helen May Keedwell in Wellington on 3 July 1945, Leach is the daughter of Peggy and Harvey Keedwell.[3][4][5][6] Her older sister, Nancy Tichborne, was a watercolour artist.[6]

After moving with her family to Dunedin in the early 1950s, Leach was educated at Otago Girls' High School.[7] She went on to study at the University of Otago, from where she graduated Master of Arts.[8]


Leach was appointed to the staff of the University of Otago in 1972, and was appointed to a chair in anthropology in 2002.[8] Originally trained in archaeology, she completed a PhD in 1976 at Otago, with a thesis titled Horticulture in prehistoric New Zealand: an investigation of the function of the stone walls of Palliser Bay.[9]

Leach has studied food, eating, cooking, associated equipment and paraphernalia in New Zealand. Her interests range from prehistoric horticulture and the evolution of human diet[10] to the history of cooking, the origins of recipes as well as the development of kitchens and batteries de cuisine in the twentieth century. Her extensive collection of cookery books, especially community cookbooks, has provided a significant resource for colleagues' investigations [11] that compensated for the incompleteness of that of the National Library of New Zealand. Reviewing Leach's most recent book Kitchens, Barbara Santich observed that "New Zealanders are indeed fortunate to have Helen Leach as guide, guardian and safe-keeper of their gastronomic past",[12] noting too that the work was illustrated with images of artefacts from Leach's own personal collection.

When Leach retired from the University of Otago in 2008, she was granted the title of emeritus professor.[8]


Leach was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2004.[13] In the 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours, she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to culinary anthropology.[14]


  • Kitchens: The New Zealand Kitchen in the 20th Century (2014)
  • From Kai to Kiwi Kitchen (2011)[15]
  • The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History, Photographs Mary Browne, Otago University Press, 2008, ISBN 9781877372575
  • The Pavlova (2009)[16]
  • Cultivating Myths (2000)[17]
  • 1000 Years of Gardening in New Zealand (1984)[18]
  • Prehistoric Men in Palliser Bay (1979)
  • Subsistence Patterns in Prehistoric New Zealand (1969) [19]


  1. ^ "Emeritus Professors" (PDF). Otago.ac.nz. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  2. ^ "Emeritus Professor Helen Leach". Otago.ac.nz. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Kiwi domestic goddess Helen Leach praised internationally - virtually unknown in NZ". New Zealand Herald. 22 October 2016.
  4. ^ "Intensification in the Pacific: A Critique of the Archaeological Criteria and Their Application".
  5. ^ "Births". Evening Post. 3 July 1945. p. 1. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  6. ^ a b Newth, Kim (21 February 2014). "Nancy Tichborne's new start". The Press. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  7. ^ "Generous donation from 1954 reunion group". Otago Girls High School mid year report. 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "Emeritus professors". Calendar (PDF). Dunedin: University of Otago. 2018. p. 121. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 January 2018. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  9. ^ Leach, Helen (1976). Horticulture in prehistoric New Zealand : an investigation of the function of the stone walls of Palliser Bay (Doctoral thesis). OUR Archive, University of Otago. hdl:10523/6200.
  10. ^ Oakes, Guy; Leach, Helen (2015). "Domestic Miss". In Little, Paul; Nissen, Wendyl (eds.). Stroppy Old Women. Auckland New Zealand: Paul Little Books. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-473-25860-3.
  11. ^ Symons, Michael (2009). "From Modernity to Postmodernity: As Revealed in the Titles of New Zealand Recipe Books". Food and Foodways. doi:10.1080/07409710903356307.
  12. ^ Santich, Barbara (February 2015). "Review of: Helen Leach: Kitchens: The New Zealand Kitchen in the 20th Century". Petit Propos Cuilinaire (102): 121–123. ISSN 0142-7857.
  13. ^ "2004 New fellows". Royal Society of New Zealand. 17 November 2004. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  14. ^ "Queen's Birthday honours list 2018". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 4 June 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  15. ^ Leach, Helen M., ed. (2010). From kai to Kiwi kitchen : New Zealand's culinary traditions and cookbooks. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press. ISBN 9781877372759.
  16. ^ Leach, Helen (2008). The pavlova story : a slice of New Zealand's culinary history. Dunedin, N.Z.: Otago University Press. ISBN 9781877372575.
  17. ^ Leach, Helen (2000). Cultivating myths : fiction, fact & fashion in garden history. Auckland, N.Z.: Godwit. ISBN 1869620496.
  18. ^ Leach, Helen (1984). 1,000 Years of Gardening in New Zealand. Auckland: A.H. & A. W. Reed. ISBN 0-589-01488-9.
  19. ^ Leach, H.M. (1969). Subsistence Patterns in Prehistoric N.Z. Anthropology Department University of Otago.