A Feast of Love: The History of Valentine’s Day and Its Culinary Traditions

Valentine’s Day, observed on February 14th, is celebrated across the globe as a day of romance and affection. Beyond the bouquets of red roses and greeting cards, there is a rich history and a sumptuous array of foods associated with this day dedicated to love.

The Historical Roots of Valentine’s Day

The origins of Valentine’s Day date back to ancient Rome with the festival of Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13 to 15. This pagan festival was filled with fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery. Later, as Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, the festival was replaced by St. Valentine’s feast day. But who was St. Valentine? The Catholic Church recognizes at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine realized the injustice of this decree and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret, which ultimately led to his death.

By the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day, and it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the day became definitively associated with love. The oldest known valentine still in existence is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Foods of Love

Love and food share a deep connection, and throughout the history of Valentine’s Day, certain foods have been associated with this special day due to their reputed aphrodisiac properties or simply their ability to delight the senses.

Chocolate: A Love-Inducing Delight

Chocolate is perhaps the most famous food associated with Valentine’s Day. Its history as a love booster began with the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, who reportedly consumed the bean in large quantities for its aphrodisiac qualities. When chocolate made its way to Europe, these beliefs persisted, and by the Victorian era, giving boxes of chocolates had become a way for potential suitors to express their affection.

Oysters: The Sea’s Seductive Offering

The Romans are attributed to being some of the first to believe in the love-inducing power of oysters. Casanova, the 18th-century lover, is said to have consumed 50 oysters for breakfast, and modern science has linked their high zinc content as a booster for the production of testosterone.

Strawberries: The Berry of Venus

Strawberries, with their heart shape and red color, have long been a symbol of Venus, the goddess of love. Their association with Valentine’s Day is as much about their appearance as it is about their sweet, sensuous flavor.

Honey: The Sweetness of Love

Honey, a symbol of procreation and fertility, has been connected to love for centuries. In fact, the term ‘honeymoon’ is believed to originate from the ancient tradition of couples consuming mead (a drink made of fermented honey) for a month after their wedding to encourage conception.

Modern Celebrations

Today, Valentine’s Day festivities include a variety of culinary treats. Fine dining restaurants offer special couple’s menus, while home cooks seek out recipes to create an intimate and memorable dining experience. From heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast to elaborate desserts adorned with edible gold, the day is an opportunity to connect through the universal language of food.

Valentine’s Day has evolved from its historical roots into a modern celebration that combines the power of love with the pleasure of eating. Whether indulging in chocolate, enjoying a dozen oysters, or preparing a homemade meal for someone special, the foods associated with Valentine’s Day are as diverse and enchanting as the stories of love that inspire them.

Why not celebrate that special someone in your life with a rechargeable gift card from SoLe’ SoupS. Pick one up in person when you visit one of our Soup StudioS in Agoura Hills or Thousand Oaks, California and find that complimentary SoLe’ SoupS entree, (maybe our famous lobster bisque?), to complete your special Valentine’s Day meal.