The wedding reception was never overlooked, regardless of social class. It was the opportunity for the two families to seal the union by sharing food. Excess was therefore the order of the day.
During Antiquity and the Middle Ages in Europe, sumptuary laws maintained social order by limiting spending and ostentatious consumption, notably in the case of weddings. However, it would appear that nobody respected these restrictions. In Greek cities, the bride’s jewellery reflected the opulence of her family. The wedding banquet, to which thirty guests at the most were invited, comprised a rich array of meat and fish. Each family had a separate table. The banquet ended with the sesamous, a cake made from grilled sesame seeds and honey reserved for the bride and groom, while the guests shared the plakous made from flour, honey and goat’s cheese. During the Roman Empire, on the morning of the big day, the bride and groom made an offering of a cake made from spelt to Jupiter before being united “by water and by fire, by wheat and by sacred flour” (Melchior-Bonnet, Salles, 2010).
Banquets in the Middle Ages were devoid of any religious characteristics and were real shows. The nobility paid as much attention to the decoration of the room (tapestries, fountains) as they did to the choice of dishes and to the entremets served between courses, with the food considered as entertainment in itself. In less lavish banquets, there was already a culinary slant to the entremets, which frequently included wheat porridge and jellied fish. Sources say that, in 1458, for the wedding between the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, and the English Duchess Margaret of York, forty-eight dishes were served, including birds redressed to resemble the living animal as much as possible.
Bourgeois wedding banquets shortly before the French Revolution were described as staid and boring. In the countryside, however, a wedding was synonymous with a party! The meagre everyday meals were replaced, for one day, by pies, pâté, meat and cakes served to the guests by the groom himself. In the 19th century, there were few changes in the rural regions. The desserts and sweet dishes reflected the exceptional aspect of the meal and the contrast with everyday food. The French bourgeoisie discovered Antonin Carême’s croquembouche, a precursor to the pièce montée, a tall cone of profiteroles typically served at French weddings today.