What time is dinner?


The other day on my Facebook page I asked my readers what they called their midday meal and their evening meal. It was interesting how it varied and not necessarily by location or country, often determined by what their parents called these meals. The history of mealtime is fascinating, so when I stumbled across a secondhand book called "Dinner with Mr Darcy" (by Pen Vogler) which included a chapter on mealtime during Jane Austen's life, I was quite excited. What we know today about mealtime, isn't really that old or very traditional - rather a continuous change that has been occurring for centuries and continues to change as we speak.  I thought it would be interesting to share some of the changes that have occurred over the centuries and hope that you find it as exciting as I did!!

You could call this a very brief (and rather confusing) history of mealtime!!

All I can say, I am glad I live in an era that eats 3 meals a day and simple courses!

The Romans (when in England) did not eat breakfast and it took many centuries, until the 17th century to be eaten by all classes in English society. For those with means - the wealthy, breakfast included coffee, tea and dishes such as scrambled eggs but these became more elaborate and in the Victorian era. By the mid 1700's many large houses started to build breakfast rooms - rooms exclusively for eating breakfast (my grandfather's home had a breakfast room which I can remember eating breakfast in)!

During the time of Jane Austen, the middle to upper classes rose between 6 to 8 am but breakfast wasn't usually taken until between 9 and 10am.  Jane Austen was known to write letters before breakfast.

However things started to change during the Industrial Revolution when workers hours were regulated and labourers were required to start early, therefore they had little choice but to eat breakfast before they went to work, it was an important meal of the day. The wealthy businessman also took on this new habit, no more late starts (for the menfolk any way).

"Morning" was the time up to dinner (I will get to that shortly). If callers arrived during this period they would be offered something like cold meat or cake.  I think this would be similar to a light morning tea.  

The picnic from "Emma"
Lunch or luncheon interestedly was something from the Victorian era when dinner was moved from the afternoon to the evening. However the word "lunch" was rarely used until the 19th century. Jane Austen referred this part of the day as "noonshine".  Luncheon was a light meal between two more substantial meals, as it is today. Once again, the Industrial Revolution changed mealtime to more along the lines we have now. Factory workers needed a noon-time break and a much needed meal, this resulted in the mass-production of food such as pies that could be eaten quickly and only required hands to hold the food.  Shops were opened to meet the needs of these workers as we have today.  Sadly, many of the pies contained rancid meat, but the gravy that was added at the time of purchase usually covered the bad taste.  What you don't know, didn't worry you!!

The word dinner comes from the Latin "cena" which the Romans ate in the middle of the day and by, the 16th century this was the main meal of the day and commenced at 11am. By the time of Jane Austen it was a meal for the mid to late afternoon.  Ladies usually took an hour to get ready for dinner. However, if you remember Miss Bingley and Mrs Hunt from Pride and Prejudice, they took an hour and half to prepare. In 1798, Jane Austen wrote about dining at 3:30pm and drank tea at 6:30pm. By 1805, she dined between 4-5pm, however in her books, Mrs Dashwood dined at 4pm, whereas General Tilney preferred 6pm. This was usually a light meal but became far more substantial as we move into the Victoria Era. However once afternoon tea became popular, dinners in the early 19th century were later pushed into the evenings. 

Tea, coffee and cake were taken an hour or so after dinner during Jane Austen's life, when the gentlemen joined the ladies after spending time in the dinning room.

With the increase in artificial lighting resulted in meal time moving later into the evening. 

During the Georgian era, time after dinner involved a visit to the theatre, or perhaps playing cards, listen to music and other forms of entertainment, this was followed by supper.  Supper could be anything from bread and cheese, cold leftovers or a full and complete meal with many courses.  This may occur around 9pm through to midnight, or if the group had been to the theatre, perhaps start at 10pm. 

The ball at Netherfield Park from Pride and Prejudice 
which was followed by supper
A hostess who is entertaining guests would have to provide not just a dinner of several dishes, and several servants to wait on them, but another two whole meals. Entertaining was a serious, and expensive business. No wonder the not so rich struggle with money all the time!

For the working classes, meal times were defined by the hours of their employment (or in rural areas, what was happening on the farm) and by the late 18th century most were eating three meals a day with their substantial meal occurring in the evening, this they refer to as dinner.  

It is all rather confusing so it's not surprising that we have such a mix of names for the meals we eat but I am glad that we have simplified mealtime!!

Georgian kitchen
****

Comments

  1. A fascinating insight, thank you for sharing. I refer to my meals as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thankyou - it is all rather exhausting!! I am glad we have only three meals to think about!!

      Delete
  2. Very interesting Jo. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us, though sometimes we call dinner "supper," as it was called when I was growing up. I imagine that the only reason the wealthy and middle class could do all those meals was because they had servants!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quite right!! Without servants all these meals would be a nightmare and just imagine the washing up at the end of the meals,especially the late supper. They seems to go from one meal to the next, changing when necessary. No wonder some ladies got rather bored with the whole thing. I remember reading that Beatrix Potter hated the idea of spending her life going from one afternoon tea to the next. I can understand.

      Delete
  3. We call the main hot meal dinner, and a lighter meal is either lunch or supper depending on the time of day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We don't use the word supper, except if have a light snack near bedtime. Otherwise I also use lunch and dinner.

      Delete
  4. That is so interesting! I love food history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is really interesting, more so than I even thought!!

      Delete
  5. In my original family, mom, dad, me-- breakfast was called breakfast, mid day meal was dinner, and final meal of the day was supper, except for holidays a bigger final meal of the day for a holiday was called dinner. As in Christmas Dinner. Though Easter Dinner was at lunch time or middle of the day. When my husband and I first met and started having meals at each other's family homes things got pretty confusing because they always referred to the final meal of the day as dinner. Lunch was at mid day. There was never any supper, Only dinner. And a late breakfast or early midday meal was brunch, a new concept to me as a teenager. In my childhood home, brunch would have been too late for breakfast, you should have gotten up earlier, you will have to wait for lunch.

    I always thought that the difference in family terms for these meals was because my family had more of a farming background, but thinking on it more, maybe those names were just carried-over generational family terms. I remember, a few times, as my kids were growing up, I referred to the refrigerator as the "ice box" and was questioned about that term. I never used an actual "ice box" in my life, and have only seen them in antique malls and magazines and on TV, but that is what my mom called it. I am sure my kids have seen them in similar places, but didn't have any idea about them. Even though I sometimes referred to the refrigerator as an ice box, my kids never did, so I don't know how long the generational references for things continues to carry on.

    I should go now and put my leftovers from supper in the ice box, I'll just need to rev up my time machine first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is all rather confusing. But it is interesting about how long a term will be used across generations, whilst you refer to the refrigerator as the ice-box, your children don't. I wonder if they got teased when they did? I just love how it has all changed but some has stayed the same!!!

      Delete
  6. It's interesting to learn how the meals developed! Eating has always been a leisurely event that is greatly enjoyed, although a lot of people these days (myself included) rush meals because there's so much to do! I should slow down and enjoy mealtime more. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was interested to read that the Romans only ate one meal a day. What an interesting school project it would be to study food and meal time in one particular era. !!

      Delete
  7. Love the history lesson, especially the emphasis on the Regency Era which is a favorite! We call it breakfast, lunch and dinner in our home though I have heard supper substituted for dinner in some circles... And thank you for linking up your interesting posts to the Art of Home-Making Mondays!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, glad you have enjoyed this post :))) I call my meals the same as you.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

I wear skirts and dresses

Art Friday: Washing Day

The power of our homes

Modern modesty

Art Friday: Views from a window

True restfulness