For some, Valentine?s Day means a romantic dinner followed by hours whispering sweet nothings, canoodling and carnality. For others, Feb. 14 heralds an annual ritual of watching ?Sleepless in Seattle? while eating what might be deemed a disgustingly large quantity of rocky road ice cream.
Or so I hear.
However, regardless of one?s relationship status or level of personal bitterness, Valentine?s Day has a wonderful variety of food to offer ? from fancy, aphrodisiac-laden meals to humble candies that are accessible to both lovers and loners.
The tradition of great Valentine?s Day food extends back to the holiday?s pagan precursor, the Lupercalia. This festival, which Romans observed Feb. 15, celebrated Lupercus, the god of fertility, and was both a fertility and a purification ceremony. The priests of Lupercus sacrificed dogs and goats and tore some of the latter?s skin into strips. It was tradition for young men to go around lashing women with these pieces of goatskin to purify the land and bring fertility to the women.
The creation of all those goat-based whips seems to present a few problems to the modern reader, namely, the obvious ethical issues inherent in flogging a portion of the population with bloody switches and the decision of what to do with all that leftover goat meat. The ancients had no answer to the first question, but they answered the second with an august feast featuring roast goat washed down with copious amounts of wine.
However, unfortunately for pagan goat lovers, the Catholic Church was not particularly keen on the Lupercalia, and in A.D. 498 Pope Gelasius formally declared Feb. 14 Saint Valentine?s Day. Although he did not formally condemn the pagan holiday or its good food, Gelasius? actions led to the elimination of the Lupercalia and brought about a dearth of mid-February deliciousness that would last for 14 centuries.
The first rumblings of a return to gastronomic glory in the Julian calendar?s second month came when wealthy couples in Great Britain began to observe Valentine?s Day as a romantic holiday during the 15th century. The couples began using the day as an excuse to write love letters, and although food was not formally a part of 15th-century observance of the holiday, history reveals this early letter writing begot gift giving, and gift-giving begot candy-eating.
Nevertheless, it would be hundreds of years before the Valentine?s Day foods we know and love really took off. Valentine?s Day had to become a popularly celebrated holiday before mass-produced candies and other popular holiday food traditions could see the light of day.
In 1847, a woman named Esther Allen Howland did more to establish Feb. 14 as a holiday for the masses than any pope or amorous British aristocrat ever had before her. Instead of following traditional gender roles and focusing all of her energies on marriage and childrearing, Howland went into business for herself, creating what many believe to be the nation?s first Valentine?s Day cards. Not long after this, the common folk of the United States had access to inexpensive valentines.
The creation of mass-produced valentines opened the door for confectioners to create the candies that would later fill them, bringing happiness and tooth decay to elementary school classrooms all over the country.
One of the most instrumental figures in this sweetening of the American valentine is Daniel Chase, the mastermind who created the conversation heart, the most ubiquitous of all V-day candies. In 1866 he developed the technology to put messages on candy hearts, and by the beginning of the 20th century the Sweetheart had entered into mass production.
According to Necco, the company that manufactures Sweethearts, early conversation hearts were unwieldy hunks of candy bearing long messages like ?Please send a lock of hair by return mail.? However, over the course of the century, both the messages and the hearts became shorter and cuter, bearing both traditional messages like ?True Love,? as well as more modern additions like ?E-mail Me.?
The foods of mid-February celebrations have experienced an impressive evolution influenced by religion, capitalism and individual innovation. Most of you will partake of at least some of these goodies tomorrow, and regardless of whether you?ll be eating these foods with that special someone, friends or only a Badger Herald crossword puzzle, I hope you enjoy them and their fascinating history.
Jason Engelhart is a senior majoring in economics and history. If you would like to ridicule his zeal for Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks romantic comedies or share a tasty recipe for roast goat, you may contact him at [email protected]