Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bashing Wedding Cakes

So I was in a taxi cab with an NPR reporter (busy shilling Sweet Invention, my new book on the history of dessert) when he told me a story that I find just fascinating. He was originally against the idea of having a wedding cake at his nuptials but he eventually relented, but in a rather singular way. He and his bride to be decided to replace the usual multistory extravaganza with a wedding-cake-shaped piñata and fill it with small bottles of booze and Twinkies. To top it all off, the couple placed sugar day of the dead skulls on top. I have to say that I was equal parts fascinated and horrified.

Having spent the last couple of years delving into the symbolic baggage of desserts (chocolate money, Barbie cakes, bone-shaped cookies, and so on) I couldn’t but stop and rejoice at all the symbolism inherent in bashing apart a symbol of wedding bliss filled with toy-sized bottles of booze and sweet relics of childhood.

Let me very briefly note the symbolism of the more ordinary wedding cake (or bride’s cake as it was sometimes known in the 1800s). In those days there was a kind of parallel between the virginal bride and the white-frosted cake, sometimes made explicit by the orange blossoms placed on both the bride and cake. The fashion for these white cakes originates with multi-story confection created by (mostly likely) Alfonse Gouffé for the wedding of the future King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The idea caught on and white wedding cakes (they used to be pink or even red) became de rigueur.

One anthropologist has noted that the act of the newlywed husband and wife plunging a knife into the cake represents the consummation of the marriage. If that is the case what does the smashing of the piñata represent?

The next step is, of course, to share the cake among the guests. They are, in effect, the witnesses of the marriage act. The cake, quite literally embodies this. You can draw a parallel to the sharing of the host in a Catholic mass. So what does it mean to consume a plastic-wrapped, industrially-produced mélange of chemicals? Moreover one that is associated with childhood? Are we bearing witness to the creation of a new consumer unit with child-like impulses born out smashing apart a traditional symbol of marriage. Then there are the toy-sized bottles of booze. In the nineteenth century, candy manufacturers used to make sweets in the shape of gin bottles, guns and cigars so that kids could play at being adults. Like so many of candy-like cocktails popular today, the little bottles seem to point to the fact the line between child and adult is little more than a blur. But what should we make of the sugar skulls? An ironic reminder that all, including symbols and marriage, are as dust to dust? Or just more spooky candy, no more threatening than Jack-o-lanterns on Halloween. Well I guess kids will be kids…till death do us part.

2 comments:

Sandra said...

The wedding cakes is orders to the main engagement cakes. So i like wedding cakes.

Lolitha said...

A wedding cake is the traditional cake served to the guests at a wedding reception and after a wedding. In modern western culture, it is usually a large cake, multilayer or tiered and heavily decorated with icing.