Follow my blog with Bloglovin

A Little Cultural History of Supper

Quickly butter a loaf of bread. Cheese, cucumber or sausage in addition and finished is probably the most famous food ever, the ever popular dinner. Although our cold dinner originated in the medieval “Putterpomme”, it is still surprisingly young as a main meal. How it came to supper and what the industrialization had to do with it, shows you our little cultural history by Barbara Eichhammer in sisterMAG.

A Little Cultural History of Supper

Butter a bread, add some cheese or ham on top and the most well-known light meal is ready to serve. Our cold supper tradition in Germany had its origins in the medieval buttered bread snack but is a relatively new invention as a main course. Our little cultural history will show you, how the light supper emerged as a tradition and what the industrialisation has to do with it.

Eating Culture

from the Middle Ages to the early modern age

It was common practice in ancient Rome to eat two meals per day, with the evening meal (in Latin »CENA«) consisting of a warm porridge with vegetables. During the MIDDLE AGES, two meals were on the menu in most European regions: one in the morning and one in the evening, mostly with warm oats. Medieval eating culture, however, also mirrored class distinctions: Fresh food was seen as a status symbol par excellence.

The buttered bread

The European elite enjoyed eating large amounts of fresh meat, even in winter, when the poorer classes only had pickled or dried meat. From the 14TH CENTURY onwards, the BUTTERED BREAD – a popular GERMAN SPECIALTY until today – came into being, when trade flourished in the hanseatic towns in the North of Germany. Thus, rye flour for sour dough, cream for butter and salt from Northern Europe were transported to Germany. Merchants also brought new preservation methods, so that butter could be cured and manufactured in bigger numbers. Whereas up to this date only aristocrats could afford to eat bread, those new trade goods now also enabled peasants and workers to eat their buttered bread as a cold snack. It still took some centuries, however, until bread and butter developed from a light snack to a MAIN MEAL. For in the early modern age, the warm supper with several courses was still the main meal of the day.


from the 20th century onwards

Eating warm in the evenings was quite customary until the 20th CENTURY. It was only in the wake of industrialisation that our eating culture changed. Between the 1920s and 1950s the COLD SUPPER, as we know it today as a light snack, came into being. New working conditions were the reasons for this change: Due to the RISE OF FACTORIES, more and more staff restaurants emerged, where workers could eat warm meals for lunch. Traditional gender roles also altered substantially with the two world wars, which resulted in new eating conventions. After the Second World War, the number of working women rose steadily. By working late – just like their husbands – they no longer had the time to cook warm, elaborate meals in the evenings. At the same time, the increasing use of machines also meant, that the physical workload and thus caloric requirements decreased for the workers. Two big warm meals per day were no longer necessary. Cold supper became the norm and turned into a loved tradition at our dinner tables.

Different forms of supper

The most famous supper of cultural history is probably the Last Supper, which Jesus celebrated with his twelve apostles the night before his death. Our three examples show you some dif ferent forms of evening meals we love to enjoy these days.

Family Dinner

The most well-known dinner is probably the FAMILY DINNER, with food being served directly on the table on platters and in bowls. Cultural studies have shown that this is probably the most DEMOCRATIC MEAL – also in terms of gender roles. For no one has to cook, but each family member can create its own light snack with the ingredients on the table. Such family style dinners are also getting more and more popular with weddings and celebrations. Thus, the popular KINFOLK DINNERS (of the eponymous magazine) are reminiscent of family dining experiences.

Dinner Party

The DINNER PARTY is a more ELEGANT and FORMAL OCCASION, which can be celebrated with FRIENDS and a MULTI-COURSE DINNER. The tradition dates back to evening gatherings amongst the ENGLISH ARISTOCRACY in its manor houses. A well-laid table, fine evening clothing and several courses to eat make the dinner party a popular event.

Candlelight Dinner

A ROMANTIC CANDLELIGHT DINNER is a popular experience for COUPLES, though the dinner by the light of candles has only been regarded as exceptionally romantic from the 1930s onwards. Since the beginning of the 20th CENTURY, it came into fashion with the invention of electricity to eat out in restaurants that were brightly lit. Electrical lighting was deemed, however, by some to be too vulgar; candlelight was associated with an elegant gentility. Thus, there were tea rooms in Greenwich village, which solely used candlelight to set themselves apart from the competition and to signal good taste. From the 1950s onwards, candlelight dinners developed as the more NOBLE ALTERNATIVE to restaurant dining.