This week’s Wednesday Wedding Fact looks at the tradition of the cake.
Everybody loves cake – it’s one of the facts of life.
However, have you ever stopped to wonder just why we have a cake at weddings and what it actually symbolises?
Where it all started…..
Long ago in Roman times (yes that long ago), the custom was for a groom to break the cake over the brides head. Obviously not the gooey iced types of cake we have nowadays you’ll understand….cake as we know it hadn’t been invented back then. It was more likely a freshly baked loaf of bread.
It symbolised the end of the brides virginal state, ensured fertility and demonstrated her new husbands power over her.
The guests would then share in eating the “cake” in the hope that the good fortune could be shared with them.
Wow – things have moved on!
Move forward a little to Medieval times and the cake had changed from being one resembling a loaf of bread to unsweetened flour based buns. These were then stacked in a pyramid (the French still do this with croquembouche) and the happy couple would attempt to kiss each other over the top of the pile. It was believed that a successful kiss would bless the couple with a large and healthy family.
We still tend to see the pyramid effect these days but in the shape of tiers of cake.
The tiers or stacks of cake by the way represent fertility and in olden times it was believed that the higher the stack of cakes, the more children the couple would produce. These days the number of tiers are more to do with how glamorous the cake looks.
Why white icing?
White is a traditional wedding colour, and until recently most cakes were covered in white icing.
White is supposed to represent chastity, purity and the virginity of the bride, which is where the custom of the white wedding dress also originates.
White icing is created by using fine sugar, which during the Victorian era when icing became popular wasn’t the easy to create. As a result, pure white icing was also very expensive to create and hence the white cake was also seen to represent the wealth of the family (the whiter the icing, the more expensive it was and the richer the family were perceived to be!)
How you cut the cake also has meaning
As for the way the cake is cut….that in itself has meaning.
The couple will traditionally cut the bottom tier of the cake. This isn’t because it’s the easiest (although it is), but it symbolises stability in their future relationship.
Likewise, the bride will traditionally hold the knife with the grooms’ hand on top of hers. This shows the bride being able to provide for and take care of her husband whilst he is there to support her.
Somewhat of a dying tradition now is the sending home of guests with a piece of the cake, and indeed sending cake to guests who were unable to attend the wedding. This was supposed to share the good fortune of the bride and groom with their friends and family.