Let them eat cake...
|Deanna and Wayne Maxfield cut their wedding cake after their nuptials last spring.|
Ah, the wedding cake.
As a kid it is the only thing a youngster looks forward to when going to the wedding; a piece of that big, delicious cake.
But for the adults, it is a symbol of a culmination of the wedding ceremony and reception. It is usually cut towards the end of the party, not long before the bride and groom depart on their honeymoon, that the cake gets carved up.
No one knows for sure where the idea of having a cake at a wedding began. Since the beginning of social man, good things were always shared at parties, and a wedding is just that, a big party.
The Romans had wedding cakes. They made a little cake made out of wheat and salt, and the groom would eat a little and then break the rest over the brides head. Maybe that is where, in a society where the sexes are more equal, the idea of bride and groom shoving cake into each others mouth came from.
The symbolic meaning of this breaking of the cake was to ensure longevity and that the couple be blessed with many children. In fact if the bride and groom didn't use tradition there was a good chance their children could never rise to any office of meaning in Rome. So the ceremony also meant a good future for their kids.
It is also duly noted that in medieval times the cake became more and more traditional. Originally the first cakes were made of wheat. Wheat was considered fertile and so the wish was for many children and prosperity.
In England during this time, cakes were actually a bread which was flour-based, but they were not sweet. These breads were used for various celebrations, with weddings just being one of these. For weddings the British also had a ceremony of piling small bread cakes in between the groom and bride until the were so high they could hardly kiss over the top of them. A kiss over the cakes meant that the marriage would be successful and fruitful.
But later in the 1600 the tradition changed when multi layer cakes came into use. Early cakes were supported with wooden dowels between the layers, and because cakes like that needed to be made well in advance they were often iced with fat to keep them from drying out. The fat was taken off before the cake was served. That fat on the cake eventually was sweetened in later years, and left as a more decorative icing.
One of the traditions that started a few years later was to give the guests pieces of the wedding cake. A theory developed that if a guest slept with a piece of wedding cake underneath their pillow they would dream of their future marriage partner.
While the color of cakes used for weddings has changed somewhat throughout the years ( the early cakes were obviously brown due to their makeup) white has been considered the standard for years. There is an obvious connotation to this since the traditional brides gown is also white. White, to many, means purity, which is what people traditionally expect out of a bride.
In fact at many points in history the traditional cake has been referred to as the bride's cake, rather than the wedding cake.
The white cake, in some quarters, also showed the affluence of the family hosting the wedding. It is only in the last 130 years that the best ingredients for icing have been available to the general public, so icing made from very rich refined sugar in the early days was a sign of affluence.
When it comes to cutting the cake, that is also considered a symbol of a couple working together to achieve something. The first cut is usually performed by the bride, although in modern times the groom helps out by holding the knife with her. In earlier times it was the bride who cut the cake and who then shared it with the wedding partiers. Of course as weddings grew in the number of people invited to the celebration, it became difficult for the bride to personally give cake to everyone.
These large wedding parties also led to the idea of baking other cakes for the guests to eat, because the wedding cake could not longer be stretched far enough. Hence the serving of sheet cakes at weddings became more accepted as time went along with access to the actual wedding cake becoming more limited to the immediate family of the newlyweds.
Once cut the bride and groom feed a piece of the cake to one another, which is symbolic of sharing with each other and the commitment to the marriage.
The change in the complexity of cakes grew faster as the 20th century advanced. What is normal today, the multi-tiered wedding cake, was reserved only for English royalty at one time. But those cakes were generally just cake on the bottom and for looks only.
However, when cake technology advanced so that cakes could have true layers with decorative columns that wouldn't sink into the layers below, tradition about cakes changed. Today many people save the top layer of their cake, and freeze it, to enjoy it on their first anniversary. Originally the top layer was for christening of a new baby, which came soon after the marriage (or it was hoped). But with changes in social attitudes the idea of the upper layer being for new baby celebrations has all but disappeared.
Now the tradition has become the bottom layer for the guests at the reception, the center layer for giving to friends and loved ones and the top tier as a memory of the wedding at a later date.
Regardless of how the cake is divided, hopefully, every couple gets to enjoy at least a piece of their wedding cake at a later time so they can be reminded of a wonderful wedding.