Weddings have always been a wonderful occasion since the dawn of civilization. They have been celebrated with no limitations on aplomb ever since mankind started to record history on cave walls and rocks and then, later, papyrus. However, many aspects of the wedding as we know them today came much later into the equation. One by one they were added to the festivities. For instance, did you know that bridal showers started out as simple weddings thrown together by the bride's friends if she was getting married to a man who wasn't to her parents' liking back in 1800’s Europe. The parents would disown their daughter and her man and then what would happen was since she would not be able to afford any dowry, her friends would get together and collects funds and gifts which she could use for her future married life. Doesn't the gift giving part sound similar to the modern day bridal shower?
However, we are not going to discuss matters of bridal showers here.In fact, it is the history and tradition of wedding cakes which will get the focus in this entry. Yes, the scrumptious wedding cake has a rich history all of its own and it is rather interesting, to say the least, to track the wedding cake down from its initial conception to the changes it has gone through over the years to the current form it is in today. Go on reading below to discover how the wedding cake originated and to find out just how it reached its current, fondant covered, multi-tiered avatar.
The History and the Traditions Related to the Wedding Cake Over the Ages
Once Upon a Time in Ancient Greece
The story of the wedding cake begins with the Ancient Greeks and simple grains.Yes, mundane grains were used by the Greeks at weddings, not to be eaten mind you, but to be thrown at the bride and groom as a ritual for ensuring fertility. This was before the rice throwing custom, which developed at wedding ceremonies later on, of course.
The Rise and Fall of the Romans
The closest thing to a wedding cake was first introduced by the Romans when the Roman Empire was at its zenith. The grains were converted into breads and biscuits meant, no, still not for consumption by the guests, but to throw at the bride. It was sometime later during the Roman Times that a tradition of the groom breaking the bread over the head of the bride started to develop, with the groom going on to eat the bread later on. If you think the ritual was weird wait till you hear the meaning behind it — the breaking of the bread signified the end of the virginal state of the bride and the fact that it was the groom breaking the bread over her head depicted his total dominance over her from that point onward... Doesn’t the backward sexist nature of the custom creep the creep out of you? Hence it was probably for this very reason that the custom fell out of practice and became obsolete with the progressing times.
Wedding Cakes in the Times of Lords and Ladies
After the Romans fell and the world saw the arrival of the age of kings, queens, and knights during the medieval era, the wedding “breads" were slowly converted into sweet buns and other “flour-based" cake like savories (still not exactly the wedding cake as we know it today).
The bread breaking custom gave way to a new ritual – the sweet buns and cakes were piled neatly, one on top of the other, and a rudimentary tower was built. The bride and groom were then expected to kiss each other over the tower (this was probably the precursor to the vertically daunting multi-tiered wedding cake of today!). The towering pile of sweet cakes signified the strength of the love shared between the newlywed couple.
Reprieve for the poor, Marie Antoinette Style!
Now, these individual cakes and breads were a bit too costly to purchase to build a tower with. It was for this reason, that in the 17th century, the stacked sweetbreads gave way to a single cake known as the “Bride’s Pie". The Bride’s Pie was filled with sweetened dough and mutton. It was so called as the bride would put in a secret ingredient into the cake. This “secret ingredient" was a glass ring, meant for all the single ladies at the wedding to find. The belief was that whichever lady found the glass ring would be the next one to find the man of her dreams and settle down happily ever after.
While the tower of breads and cakes remained unshakeable in popularity amongst the rich, the poor immediately took to adopting the concept of the single “Bride’s Pie" cake, as it obviously came much cheaper. It was probably this trend which prompted Marie Antoinette to make her now famous faux pas of “If the peasants don’t have bread to eat, let them have cake!"
Rise of the Fancy Multi-tiered Wedding Cake
During the mid 17th century, when a French chef (whose name unfortunately is lost in the annals of history) was travelling through England and attended a wedding where the couple kissed over a tower of cupcakes, he was bemused at the structure and sought to redesign it in such a way that it would be more durable and more appealing to look at. He was the one who first came up with the idea of a frosted, multi-tiered wedding cake. To keep the structure steady and storage able for a few days, the French chef placed a layer of lard over it. This recipe soon became a hit and soon, an alteration was made to the lard on the French wedding cakes by sweetening and coloring it for benefits of the tongue and eyes. This was the origin of the typical “cake icing".
And so, the wedding cake made its journey through history in its different avatars, tied with different antique customs, some of which were modified slightly to suit changing times whereas others completely faded into obscurity. But one thing is for certain, be it in Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, or 17th century France, wedding cakes have always been synonymous with the grandeur associated with the business of tying the knot in public.