The tradition and heritage behind Mell Suppers

Mell suppers, deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of Yorkshire, are a cherished tradition that brings communities together in celebration of harvest and camaraderie. These festive gatherings are held in late summer or early autumn, usually in small villages or rural areas, where locals gather to share a meal and revel in the bountiful produce of the season.

The term ‘Mell’ is thought to refer to a dialect word for ‘meal,’ and the suppers are characterised by an abundance of hearty, homemade dishes. Often, a traditional Mell cake can be found at these suppers, as the word ‘Mell’ also means to mix, and the cake is made up of many delicious, rich spices.

Mell suppers were traditionally held in the large kitchen at every farmhouse and all farm workers, including those taken on for harvesting and the young lads who reared the stock were all invited.  Long tables were lit with turnip lanterns and set out with the best cuts of beef and pork, as well as legs of mutton and rabbit pies. Plum puddings with sauce would be a popular choice for dessert. This was then followed by a cheese and much ale. Song and dance commenced and went on until the early hours of the morning. On the dance floor, a ‘Mell Doll’ would take pride of place, the last sheaf in a field decorated with ribbons and bought along by a farmer.


Nowadays, Mell suppers are mainly held in village halls or community centres, where the spirit of community shines brightly. These venues are adorned with vibrant decorations, showcasing the artistic talents of the locals. Tables are decorated with colourful floral arrangements, adding a touch of natural beauty to the festivities. The centrepiece of a Mell supper is often a whole roasted or boiled ham, cooked to perfection and served in generous slices. Accompaniments vary but commonly include pickles, chutneys, crusty bread, and traditional Yorkshire puddings. Local vegetables like carrots, peas, and potatoes, sourced from nearby farms, are lovingly prepared to complement the main course.

As the evening progresses, laughter and lively conversation fill the air. Stories are shared, songs are sung, and traditional games are played, fostering a sense of togetherness and belonging. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with generations coming together to honour their heritage and forge new connections. Musicians and performers take the stage, entertaining the crowd with lively tunes and captivating performances. Traditional folk dances, like the Yorkshire “Long Sword Dance” or the “Clog Dance,” add an element of lively entertainment to the evening.

The tradition of Mell suppers is a testament to the resilience and strong community bonds present in Yorkshire. It is a time-honoured celebration of the land’s abundance, the hard work of farmers, and the collective spirit of the local residents. These gatherings not only nourish the body with delicious food but also nurture the soul with a sense of belonging and a shared appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of Yorkshire.

Peter Cooper