The Southern Jutland coffee table
The South Jutland coffee table has a special place in many Danes' hearts, and the table has become a symbol of lavish abundance.
A classic Southern Jutland coffee table is based around two main elements, the soft and the hard cakes. A golden rule was that a full coffee should contain at least seven kinds of soft and seven kinds of hard cakes. Soft cakes were everything from bread rolls to sponge layer cakes, hard cakes were crispy biscuits.
Unfortunately, these days it has become a rarity to be served a full coffee table.
The significance of the stove
The South Jutland coffee table has been a household term for many Danes for over a hundred years, but the truth is that the South Jutland coffee tables were no more lavish than the coffee tables that the farmer's wives from North Jutland previously treated their guests to. The big difference was the context.
Coffee tables with a large selection of cakes made their entry in the second half of the 1800s. The two main reasons for the spreading of the coffee table was that coffee became a beverage for ordinary people and that the stove made its entry into Danish homes.
The stove had many advantages in contrast to the open fireplace. One of these was a small oven with the ability to control the heat input. This gave the opportunity to bake cakes on a larger scale.
Many different kinds of pastries are an important part of the South Jutland coffee table. Cake baking on a larger scale only started to become more common in the 1860s. Cakes had been baked before, but they had been served as a dessert. Now cakes were served with coffee as an independent inbeween-meal.
The South Jutland coffee table started evolving from the 1870s, but it was not until the 1890s that coffee tables reached the extent that we today associate with the household term Southern Jutland coffee table. It was a phenomenon that mainly thrived in the country, and here the custom was especially common among farming families.
They had the raw materials and labour to produce a full coffee table. Smallholding families had coffee tables too, but on a smaller scale. Conversely, in urban circles it never really became good form to splurge on pastries and cakes, neither in the middle nor upper class, and the working class families certainly could not afford to dish up such lavish coffee tables.
The coffee table's heyday
The South Jutland's coffee table heyday was from the 1890s to 1914. It coincided with the large-scale meeting hall construction in South Jutland. The meeting halls could not get spirit licenses, so coffee punches or grogs were banned from the meetings. Instead you had to stick to coffee tables with soft cakes.
The coffee tables were based on so-called 'leaders', which meant that each household brought cakes to the communal coffee table. The many different varieties of pastries, tarts, biscuits and cakes were all lined up on the long tables in the meeting hall.
The lavishness and variety was great. For visiting Danish speakers, they helped to create the myth of the incredible coffee tables in South Jutland.
Tradition dictated that you took 3-4 kinds of cakes on your plate at a time. The whole experience of the many different kinds of cakes, the overloaded cake plates combined with the participants' sense of community, fighting spirit and community singing, helped to create the myth of the incredible South Jutland coffee tables.
Adriansen, Inge: Det sønderjyske kaffebord - et samspil mellem nationalpolitik og kosttradition. Grænseforeningens årbog 1998.
Author: Linda Klitmøller, museum curator, Sønderskov Museum