It may come as a surprise to most brides that, originally, the wedding cake was not eaten by the bride but broken over her head! The wedding cake has its origins in the many fertility traditions surrounding a wedding. Luckily this custom evolved into actually eating the cake.
Wheat was the original fertility food of choice. Wheat, not rice, used to be showered at the happy couple, and single men and women (so we're told) then scrambled for a grain or two to ensure their own betrothals.
The Roman Empire was responsible for beginning the wedding cake tradition by breaking loaves of wheat bread over the bride's head, while the guests scrambled to eat the crumbs that fell on the floor for good luck. Wedding guests today are much luckier, we think. They get a first shot at the wedding cake without having to scrape the floor for crumbs.
During the Middle Ages, wedding wheat loaves became sweet buns, brought to the bride and groom as gifts. Following the ceremony, the sweet buns were piled up and the bride and groom attempted to kiss over the enormous pile. The taller the pile, the more prosperous the couple, so the story goes.
Finally, somebody with some sense. Supposedly, an anonymous French chef working during the reign of King Charles II in the 16th Century visited London, and was appalled by their gross wedding cake traditions. Not only was the pile of buns unsanitary, but anyone who's had English pastry knows that they were probably the most tasteless cakes in the whole world. So he rushed home to France and baked up something that looked like a pile of buns (multi-tiered) and actually tasted good. Then he slathered it with tons of icing. A significant step up for the guests: finally they got to have an actual piece of cake that had not been thrown on the floor, stuck in the bride's hair, stepped on or drooled on at the wedding.
Adapted from "The Wedding Cake Tradition" by Jennifer Baumann, www.weddinggazette.com
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