What Time is Dinner?

Today many people find it strange that the biggest meal of the day once centered around noon, but it made great sense at the time. Artificial lighting such as oil lamps and candles were expensive, and provided weak illumination at best. So people went to sleep at sundown, because it’s difficult to work and eat in the dark. The last meal of the day was a rushed affair, a quick snack before the lights (the sun) went out. The only exceptions were those who had to work at night, and the extremely wealthy and powerful people at royal courts. The wealthiest courts, like those of France and Burgundy might stay up after sunset, their grandly decorated halls illuminated by thousands of candles or torches. But they were unusual; most medieval people never witnessed such spectacles.

Traders and merchants, who sometimes had to stay in the shop to handle the last daylight stragglers amongst their customers, might close shop at dusk and spend the last hour or two of their day in candlelight or firelight. But they made it to bed as quickly as they could, to rise early the next day and open up their shops again. Only the extremely wealthy had candles to burn and could waste daylight hours sleeping in late. So supper, the third and last meal of the day, was usually eaten before the sun went down, or very shortly afterward. —Sherrie McMillanWhat Time is Dinner? (History Magazine)

Apparently, women’s social needs are the reason why both lunch and tea became cultural touchstones in England.

I put it on my “to do” list to eat lunch with colleagues in the cafeteria once or twice a week, and when I’m home I’m usually the one who serves the kids (though my wife tells me what to make, or at least gives me options, so it doesn’t really take much mental effort on my part). While chocolate is definitely my weak point (I make the rounds each day at Seton Hill, stopping by offices where people keep chocolates for visitors), if you removed the social aspect of meals, and look just at giving your body fuel to keep going, I prefer foods I can eat with one hand while sitting at my computer.