top of page
  • janetgoncalves

Victorian Funerary Food Traditions


Often when someone dies, there is a wake with a funeral reception afterwards  which includes some refreshments. Is this death ritual performed out of hospitality or does it have deeply rooted connections? We may have the Victorian era to thank for this mourning tradition.


Funeral biscuits, often called funeral cookies, or even burying biscuits, were a funerary food tradition for centuries throughout North America and Europe. In the late 18th century, “when The Gentleman’s Magazine, a London monthly, ran a short blurb about an advertisement for the cookies glimpsed in a shop window in the North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough. The writer—who signed off with “Syne”—couldn’t quite pinpoint “the origin of this ceremony,” but wrote that it seemed to call for “a kind of sugared biscuit, which are wrapt up, generally two of them together, in a sheet of white paper, sealed with black wax, and thus presented to each person attending the funeral.” (See source 3). The cookies were also sometimes handed to mourners directly, or mailed to those who couldn’t make it.


It was customary for biscuits like these to accompany a formal, printed funeral invitation, “wrapped in a black-edged paper printed with suitably reflective verses and sealed with black wax” and tied with a black ribbon, writes University of Bristol folklorist and historian Helen Frisby in Traditions of Death and BurialBakeries were known for their wares and advertised their services. Part of these services included custom messaging on the wrappings and a brisk turnaround for short notice orders.


Funeral food has long been viewed to help the living find meaning in death. Anthropologists suggests it may have even earlier early roots than the Victorian era. Paleolithic humans dining on the deceased before burial, Sin eaters (17th/18th century) and corpse cakes (Middle Ages) are just some examples of symbolic rituals around food and mourning.


In conclusion, symbolic rituals around food and mourning still exist, especially with certain cultures. The most important feature of the food is to find meaning together and to comfort the mourners.

 

 

Sources

1.    http://historiccamdencounty.com/THE STORY OF VICTORIAN FUNERAL COOKIES, Revisiting a Centuries' Old Mourning Tradition, By Hoag Levins, Sept. 12, 2011 (also photo source)

 

2.   https://rfhr.com/Funeral Repast vs. Reception: What’s the Difference?, by Renaissance Funeral Home 

 

3.    https://www.atlasobscura.com/Eat Your Sorrow With These Victorian Funeral Biscuits, BY JESSICA LEIGH HESTER, OCTOBER 30, 2019

 

4.    Traditions of Death and Burial, by Helen Frisby

 

(if you’d like to try making your own funerary biscuit)


 

 

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page