Monday, September 14, 2015
Evolution of the Wedding Cake Tradition
In our modern Western culture, the wedding cake is usually tiered, iced, and decorated per the desires of the bride. One wedding I recently attended had to include plenty of bling, which looked like sheets of rhinestones decorating the sides of the bottom tier. The challenge when it comes to wedding cakes is that they have to be crafted in a way that can support the decorations and still be edible. For this reason, many wedding cakes are works of art. Today wedding cakes have become big business and are one more expense couples must figure in to the cost of their wedding. But once upon a time instead of a wedding cake there was bread.
Many wedding traditions are linked with superstitions from long ago, and the wedding cake is no different. Before there was cake as we know it, the wedding cake took on the form of unsweetened bread. In medieval times, this bread was made from wheat flour and water and was thrown at the bride to during the ceremony to encourage fertility.
During Roman times, the bread had evolved into a loaf of barley bread. The groom would take a bite of the loaf and then hold the remainder of the bread over the bride's head and break it showering her with crumbs. Crumbs falling from her head were thought to be good luck, but this practice also carried with it a reminder of the man's dominant role over the woman. This practice also marked the end of her virginal state. Guests in the meantime scrambled to pick up any pieces that fell to the floor to get a bit of that good luck for themselves.
By the 17th century, the barley loaf was replaced with what was called the "Brides Pie." It was a mince or mutton pie made with sweetbreads. Just to be clear, sweetbreads are not sweet. It's a name given to organ meat that comes from the thymus gland and pancreas. Each pie contained a glass ring and it. The lady who found the ring in her piece of pie was believed to be the next to marry.
Finally in the 19th century, sweet cakes emerged as the confection for wedding celebrations. They weren't anything elaborate like what we see today but were normally just a flat one tier plum cake. It was thought that if the bridesmaid slept with a piece of cake under her pillow she would dream of her future husband. (Don't ask me how they slept with plum cake under their pillow. What a mess!)
Cake became the preferred confection for wedding celebrations. It didn't break in half like the bread, and so the tradition changed. The cake was sliced on a table. Guests no longer scrounged about on the floor for a lucky crumb, but could now stand in line and be served a tiny morsel of luck which the bride passed through her wedding ring into their hands.
It was in Victorian times that wedding cake as we know it today started to be popular. It was at this time that the first white wedding cakes covered in white icing appeared. By this time, white had become the color that represented purity. However, they weren't called wedding cakes yet. Instead, they were known as the "bride's cake" and the bride elevated as the focal figure at the wedding.
Today's couples have endless choices when it comes to wedding cakes. Instead of the traditional white cake, today's wedding cakes can be any flavor or flavors and can even be color-coordinated with the theme of the wedding.
The cutting of the cake is also a tradition and is something the bride and groom do together (at least the first slice), and this said to represent a promise to each other to always be there to help one another. Then traditionally, they each feed one another from that first slice which represents their willingness to provide for one another throughout life. Then there's the practice of smashing that cake all over each other's faces, but that's a story for another time.