The luxurious, white, tiered cake is a modern, timeless symbol of the wedding ceremony, but it wasn’t always like that, the wedding cake has is origins in medieval history and was quite different to the famous cake we know today. Through generations and generations of cultural changes and new-found ingredients, what started out as quite a crude, rudimentary ritual, has evolved into a celebrated staple of the big day.
In this article, I’ll be taking you through the history of the wedding cake, to help you understand its significance in modern weddings, and how it got there. Some versions of history’s wedding cake will make you laugh, some versions will make you feel slightly disturbed at how it would’ve tasted, and some will fill you will wonder as you begin to piece together the bigger picture, slice by slice.
It may seem like you can only picture a wedding cake that’s big, white and towered high, but it didn’t start out that way, in fact, it couldn’t have been further from today’s incarnation. Medieval cakes, however, were made out of wheat, as it was a symbol of fertility; think this sounds a bit strange? Well it only gets stranger. The wheat cake was then thrown at the bride to ensure a life full of fertility and prosperity followed the big day. I’m not sure about you, but it seems little mean and waste of a cake. To follow, all the cakes and baked treats would be piled high and the loving couple were expected to kiss over the top of the heap, to further encourage more prosperity. I think it’s safe to say weddings have come a long way since then!
The Roman community would celebrate the wedding cake in a similar way, breaking wheat cakes over the bride’s head after the groom had eaten a chunk for himself. I can’t help but think that all this is a bit unfair to the bride, luckily, history has been kind to her since.
The ‘Bride’s Pie’
Around the time of the 17th century, things started to pick up a little. Legend has it that a visiting French chef had implemented new ideas for wedding catering, after being disgusted with the rituals of the day. Either way, cakes began to take on a more structured form, being ‘stacked’ and arranged. It wasn’t yet quite the tiered cake we know today, but it was getting there.
It was also around this time that more emphasis was put on the bride, so rather than being a target for flying cakes, or something to break wheat over, she was treated to new delights such as The Bride’s Pie, Bridesmaids and The Bride’s Bed. A glass ring was also placed in the refurbished cake, and whichever woman found it, would be next married. The Bride’s Pie was also baked using sweeter flavours, which was seen as a big improvement on the previously used wheat.
The white wedding cake
So you can see how over the years, we finally got there, and the cakes and ceremonies of today began to take shape. One thing still remains though, where did all the white come from? Well for this, we have the Victorians to thank. Previously, white ingredients were few and far-between, and so they became a symbol of high status and wealth. The industrial revolution brought more availability of manufactured goods and trade, so white foods were more easily sourced. Through this cultural evolution, the Victorians brought the ‘white wedding’ to the forefront of fashion, and it had remained there ever since.