We’re looking at a history of weddings and catering this month. If you’re at the point when you are looking to hire a professional catering company to assist you with your wedding celebrations, you are already seeing your future with positive anticipation.

If you are planning the occasion yourself, you have already overcome the issue of not knowing where to begin. You will have already set yourself a budget, made decisions on the guest list, possibly selected a venue, and even considered a desirable, far away destination for an unforgettable honeymoon.

Don’t look back in era.

Some people say that those interested in history are not focusing on future events. Well, in this history of weddings and catering we are certainly preparing you for future events.

 But who doesn’t love a slice of history?

After all, we are all part of someone’s inextricable past, and starting a new life as husband and wife can often be overwhelming and seem daunting at times. Rest assured, you are now part of something much bigger and your wedding day will be a memorable part of history before you know it.

If you’re bursting at the seams with excitement right now, let’s just wind down for a moment with an inspirational starter to whet your appetite for the big day.

Here is Citreus Catering’s brief history about the business we do best…

Celebrating a history of weddings and catering – where it all began.

 Since the dawn of time, food has been an integral part of nearly every social gathering. We are naturally social creatures and, as we evolved, we required higher levels of social interaction.

The first fire-starters were unable to comprehend the latest commercial ovens with thermometers for analogic temperature displays and separate controls for heat. What the flame gave them was the ability to harness the power of cooking and the resources to be able to consume more calories in just one sitting.

Early humans were faced with a barrage of ecological challenges. Cooking provided food with the extra calories needed to facilitate a larger brain which allowed primitive diners to adopt more sophisticated methods.

Social events and celebrative gatherings are renowned for stories, opinions, mother-in-law jokes, and debates. At 43,900 years old, the cave paintings of Sulawasi, Indonesia, are said to be the oldest figurative form of storytelling in the world – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_painting

The Theme of Food

And, of course, the theme was food. The painting depicted pig hunters, early consumers going out for breakfast, who felt it necessary to document society on a wall, like a primitive Banksy but with only a handful of followers.

It’s easy to imagine how storytelling and sharing food was able to evolve hand-in-hand. After a day of hunting, the family or close community would sit to discuss their experiences as they ate, discussing facts, creating myths and legends, exaggerating conquests, and gossiping about celebrities beneath the stars.

The writing is on the wall.

The Egyptians and ancient Greeks were amongst the first to carve their own language into walls and, although the history of catering is first associated with the Chinese of the 4th Millennium BC, it was the Greeks who offered catering as a trade at hostels and inns.

The historical region of Mesopotamia, in Western Asia, was once a Greek state whose leaders held banquets to celebrate festivals, victory in battle, and successful hunting campaigns in the first half of the 3rd Millennium BC. The region is also home to the first recorded marriages between men and women, from about 2350 BC – https://theweek.com/articles/528746/origins-marriage

In the 2nd Millenium BC, although the Hittites of Antolia (modern-day Turkey) held a banquet in connection with their Sacred Marriage rite there is evidence to suggest that the institution of marriage existed long before this.

During the emergence of agriculture, about 12,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer communities settled down into larger agrarian civilisations and organised groups, consisting of several leaders.

All is fair in the symbolism of love and ownership.

The first wedding ceremonies would’ve had very little to do with love and religion. The need for stability and commitment would have been encouraged to create the foundations of something more durable and unwavering, and the initial purpose of marriage would have been to bind women to men as a biological guarantee and ownership.  

By this time, with organised groups consisting of about 30 individuals who were all working hard to expand the agricultural landscape, any cause for celebration would certainly bring food to a communal area.

Fast forward a few millennia and new traditions began to emerge from the institution of marriage. From the symbolism and superstition of ancient Egypt to the escapism of European folklore, each culture cultivated its own social identity, and nobody revelled in a banquet like the Romans.

When in Rome…

Apart from major developments and inventions such as underfloor heating, c-sections, concrete, bound books, the calendar, and roads, the Romans liked to party and they brought their own style of celebration to the wedding ceremony.

They certainly had a history of weddings and catering but, as you’d expect from a well organised but often erratic Roman empire, marriage was governed by law with no legal system in place to enforce it.

Unromantic, marriage was generally an agreement between families; a matter of convenience with a propensity to improve wealth and status.

Food was integral to the celebrations about 2000 years ago but catering was still a luxury that only the wealthy were fortunate enough to experience.

Following the signing of a marriage contract, there was an enormous feast which resulted in the groom smashing a barley cake over the bride’s head. Unfortunately for the neighbours, the day would end with a long and noisy procession to the couple’s home where the bride, often in her early teens, would be carried over the threshold.

Fetes, Fights and Feasting

More than 600 years later, during a time of wild bears, wolves, violent revolutions, pestilence, gruesome punishments, fetes, fights and feasting, weddings were still very much of a thing of convenience, especially for royalty.

The royal wedding was a lavish occasion during the middle ages with full traditional regalia and opulent adornments. It would’ve been a classic dynastic arrangement where guests would dine on hog roasts like Premiership footballers in an episode of Game of Thrones.

The wealthier you were, the better you ate.

The guests at royal feasts were likely to be entertained with a fresh fish or venison main course in spices and a rich sauce. All this would be washed down with grape wine, cider, or an insignificant, low strength beer like something purchased in small bottles from Lidl.

At the time, due to poor quality drinking water, beer was an everyday drink for many people, and it was documented that nuns were rationed to only six pints a day!

Although objectionable today, some loveless royal couples were still children at the time of their wedding (Princess Isabella of France was only 12 when she married King Edward II, in 1308), and aspects of today’s wedding ceremonies are heavily influenced by that era.

The reading of the banns, the declaration of vows in the present tense, and the word ‘wedding’ itself are all contributing factors from the middle-ages.

The Church created and enforced marriage law but, due to certain medieval inconsistencies and ambiguities, it was often difficult to determine whether a couple was married or not. 

Consent in the present.

Basically, permission and parental consent were not required for a young couple to marry. Various words and gestures could be used to create a marriage and, if a couple promised to marry in the future, they could simply have a very intimate relationship one night to legally bind a marriage as a physical expression of ‘present consent’.

With no specific phrases or legal blueprint in place, it was no wonder that the courts were awash with couples trying to disprove their marriage to one another.

 With such confusion, the clergy finally became disgruntled with the whole set up and, around about the 1100s, they stepped in to declare that marriage was a holy sacrament; a union of Christ and the Church, and it wasn’t a lacklustre affair after all but something to be treasured and taken more seriously https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/love-and-marriage-in-medieval-england/

Have your cake and throw it at the bride.

And there is nothing more serious than cake. Some families have taken a cake feud to the grave, often refusing to converse again following a design disagreement.

White Wedding

Again, the medieval folk had a large part to play in the influence of cake. The early cakes would have been wheat-based and ceremoniously thrown at the bride – a theme I would personally like to see continued with more flamboyant, tiered cakes. Believe me, the kids would love it.

 The term ‘White Wedding’ was coined due to the introduction of icing in the 16th Century. Sugar icing was a rare commodity back then as it required the finest, refined sugar from sugarcane trades in the West Indies.

Until the worldwide sugar pandemic and the wider distribution of bitter-tasting caffeinated drinks, the white cake was perceived as a sign of status and affluence.

Bride’s Pie

The cake went through a bit of a transition in the 1600s when the cake became what was known as a pie, the Bride’s Pie. It literally was a pie and filled with meat such as mutton. It appears to have been a tradition in less affluent societies where a glass ring would be hidden in the pie, and the person who received the ring within their serving was the next in line to be married.

During those times of long, dark nights and no Netflix, the medieval imagination would be working overtime to reinvent the wedding cake.

Despite all the fun of head-bashing, breaking, throwing and stuffing it, it was decided that a traditional wedding cake should be white. Therefore, the sheer weight of a modern-day cake, sometimes full of raisins, currants, sultanas, eggs, caster sugar and icing, renders it a lethal weapon if thrown.

Well, that tops it off.

Since the 19th century, the wedding cake topper was introduced, inspiring couples and spawning a mini-industry of its own.

Fresh flowers were considered a non-traditional cake topper in the 1950s, and since then we have seen a multitude of substitutions for bride and groom characters. Literally, anything in pairs goes. I have seen Dinosaurs, giraffes, suggestive fruit, Mr & Mrs signs, and even Homer and Marge Simpson.

The cake has a lot to answer for in the history of weddings and catering, and it’s just another bow in Cupid’s arrow for the business of food at weddings.

Are you ready to receive your guests?

No wedding is complete without a party. You are gonna need somewhere to eat the cake, share it with guests, drink wine, and be merry.

A wedding ‘reception’ is called so because the bride receives her guests, traditionally greeting them individually in a line. 

Get the party started!

According to Hitched – shorturl.at/ahACH – the number of guests at a wedding reception hasn’t really changed much over time. The average wedding reception now hosts between 50-100 people, and 50% of brides limit the guest list to 100 people whilst nearly a third ask for reservations to be made up to 150.

Before lockdown, the most popular venue for a wedding reception was a country/manor house https://www.standard.co.uk/escapist/travel/best-wedding-venues-in-the-uk-a4315351.html – with museums, sporting venues, and warehouses being amongst the least common.

 Taking this into consideration, it’s clearly a numbers game, and you will need seasoned professionals who know how to cater for the numbers and get the party started with sumptuous cuisines fit for a royal banquet.

Unless the family was particularly wealthy, grand receptions with a huge guest list were uncommon before the mid-1940s. Receptions used to take place back at the bride’s home with just a few close friends and the immediate family.

Before the excitement of rotating dancefloors and Saturday Night Fever, dancehalls were a common attraction in the 1920s, usually hosting live music. Depending on the budget, these could be rented and made to accommodate numbers far beyond what a family home could facilitate. 

These days, you don’t have to be Kendall Jenner to find somewhere particularly glamourous to host a wedding bash. 

There are venues in all shapes and sizes, indoor and out. From cool secluded basements to stunning gardens for those mid-summer weddings, there are plenty of choices to match all tastes and budgets.

If you have somewhere in mind for your reception, speak to us about ideas of how our catering team can help set the scene with a menu to match the occasion. 

A history of weddings and catering – who to cater for

We touched upon the Greeks being amongst the first to consider catering as a trade, and it’s difficult to imagine a time when there wasn’t a need to feed a mass of people.

Evidence suggests that catering all started in the Far East, around 4,000 BC, until the expanse of the Egyptian and Roman Empires changed the feasting dynamic.

 And where would we be without a history of weddings and catering from the Egyptians?

The Egyptians put their own spin on things when they decided to build huge structures. A lot of people dedicated their whole lives to building tombs and chambers for kings and queens, and the manpower behind the hard work, in sweltering conditions, needed feeding. The armies needed nutrition and so did the slaves.

As Roman armies marched through one country after another, the Empire extended the Greek idea of providing accommodation that served food.

All roads led to Rome at one point – or so it seemed – and the Romans strategically placed inns and taverns along these routes to facilitate soldiers as they moved back and forth like rats in an aqueduct, feasting and frolicking as they went.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the Middle-age influence because a history of weddings and catering during this period is generally not very appealing or appetising. It will probably contain details about puss-ridden wenches serving blackbirds in pies, and it can all get a bit depressing.

Revolutionary Thought

However, backed by the Church, they transformed the industry into an effective, thriving economy through better logistics of supplies and intensified transport.   

Things really started to heat up in the kitchen in the late 1700s, following the French Revolution. The continued rise of the bourgeoisie in the middle ages led to the reorganisation of the upper classes in favour of the average individual.

Rather than slaves running around for landed gentry, a shift in policies gave rise to new opportunities for those looking to earn a crust from an emerging industry. This gave birth to the modern restaurant and, eventually, the ubiquitous food selfie. Quite unaccountably, it is now accustomed to share a picture of one’s English breakfast with millions of other people.

I’ll briefly mention that the Army built Britain’s first catering school in Aldershot, in 1885, before adding that, a hundred years previously, the American’s cemented their catering past in the history books for a major event that had roots closer to Nottingham.

The Mischianza
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mischianza – or ‘Medley’ in Italian was an elaborate catering event given in honour of Sir William Howe, who was the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the American war of Independence.

On 18th May 1778, a crowd of over 400 guests attended a ball in Philidelphia that was thrown by Howe’s corps of officers for 3,312 guineas (that’s about half a million quid in today’s monetary terms). This was following General William Howe’s decision to resign from his post and return to England.

Attended by all the pomp of the military’s top brass – at a time when Germany was a staunch ally of the British – the banquet took place by the side of the river Delaware where a procession included a regatta, a 17-gun salute by British warships, jousting, a firework display, and partying until a time in the morning that would satisfy Snoop Dogg.

Catered for by Caesar Cranshall, the event was the earliest account of mass catering in the United States. 

America’s early catering industry, disproportionately founded by African-Americans, blossomed out of Philadelphia after 1820 into a respectable and profitable business.

Following the festivities, Howe returned to England in 1778, where he continued to serve as a member of parliament for Nottingham until 1780.  

Clearly, the aftermath of an event on such a scale provided the inspiration for great venues to be utilised by entrepreneurs with an aptitude for creative cooking. Who would have believed that, less than 200 years later, the ancestors of this industry would become television celebrities?

Thanks for reading a history of weddings and catering. and I hope you found this interesting. We will be adding further posts to our blog page to accompany our catering service. Thinking of hiring a professional caterer for your wedding reception?

1 Comment

  1. Jamie Hanson on 10th December 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Love this, great read!!!!

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