Here’s another interesting development about the history of wedding traditions. The wedding cake had very humble beginnings before it evolved into the artistic masterpieces we see today. In Havre de Grace, we have such an artist in Cindy King at Desserts by Rita on Pulaski Highway. Unlike some wedding cakes, not only do her cakes look great, they taste awesome.
Until I started this research, I never knew that originally, the cake was not eaten by but thrown at the bride! It developed as one of the many fertility traditions surrounding a wedding. Wheat too, is traditionally a symbol of fruitfulness and was among the earliest grains (predating rice) to be ceremoniously showered on the bride and groom. In its earliest origins, the unmarried young women attending the wedding were expected to scramble for the grains to ensure their own betrothals, much as they do today for the bridal bouquet.
Early Roman bakers, it seems were the ones who made the move from throw it to eat it. These bakers specialized in weddings and were distinguished and respected in their trades. Somewhere around 100 BCE they began taking the wedding wheat and creating small, sweet cakes with it. Interestingly, the cakes were eaten during the wedding. Imagine sitting as a wedding guest, eating cake while the couple exchanged their vows!
This evolved from eating the crumbs of wheat to sweet meat cakes and the cutom spread throughout Europe. These cakes must have been rather dry because in medieval England the tradition broadened to include the practice of washing down the cakes with special ale called "bryd ealu," translated as "bride's ale," words that eventually became the word "bridal." Before their wedding, brides would brew a special batch of beer to sell. This was to raise funds for her and her husband’s new life together.,
In the Middle Ages, when food tossing became rice tossing, the once decorative sweet meat cakes evolved into small biscuits or scones. Guests were encouraged to BYOB (bake/bring your own biscuit) with them to the ceremony. After the wedding, leftovers were distributed among the poor. It is those very simple biscuits and scones that became the forerunner of the elaborate multi-tiered wedding cake we know today. Legend has it that throughout the British Isles it became customary to pile the biscuits, scones, and baked goodies on top of one another in one huge heap. The taller the pile, the more the future prosperity of the young couple, who exchanged a kiss over the mound. It is told that in the 1660's during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name, unfortunately, is now lost) visited London and was appalled at the cake-piling ritual. It was his idea to transform the messy mound of bland biscuits into a beautiful work of art, an iced, multi-tiered wedding cake.
So, we can thank the Romans for the beginnings of this wonderful custom and no surprise, French bakers are responsible for the beautiful works of art that are in many ways the focal point of the reception.