For centuries, cakes have been one of the main ingredients of a wedding celebration. However, the traditional wedding cake has not always been the rich variety, heavy with fruit, like the ones now generally favoured. In years gone by it was a simple confection, made from just flour, salt and water. Early British cakes were round and flat, and later began to contain fruit and nuts to symbolise fertility.
In Roman times, the cake was even shared during the actual ceremony, although in those days it was more akin to a thin loaf of bread. At the close of the ceremony it was broken or crumbled over the bride’s head to symbolise fertility and guests scrambled to gather crumbs as good luck charms. In Fiji the cake is still incorporated within the ceremony today.
Symbolism is an important element of British wedding celebrations and the actual cutting of the cake is one of the traditional rituals. By joining hands to make that first cut together, the couple are symbolising the sharing of their future. An old Yorkshire custom was to take a plate of wedding cake and throw it out of the window as the bride was making her way to her parents’ home after the ceremony. The couple’s future happiness depended on whether the plate broke or remained intact.
The size of the cake has grown over the centuries. During the Middle Ages the tradition was for the happy couple to kiss over the top of a pile of small cakes. Eventually, a baker came up with the idea of clustering all these together and covering them with icing, setting the trend for the tiered wedding cakes we know today. The shape of today’s three-tiered cake is said to have been based on the spire of Saint Bride’s Church in London. The top tier is often kept by the couple for their first child’s christening.
As well as throwing a plate out of the window, there was once the custom of placing a ring inside the wedding cake. Whichever guest found the ring in their slice of cake was guaranteed to be happy for the following year. Although these customs have become outdated and just become traditions of the past, some old wives’ tales still remain. For instance, if an unmarried guest places a piece of the wedding cake beneath their pillow they are said to help their chances of finding a partner. Similarly, if a bridesmaid does this, she is said to dream of her future husband.