Wedding cake traditions

Bermuda retains the full distinction of cakes: a three-tiered bridecake, with snow-white icing brushed with silver leaf (for the bride's ^purity and fertility) topped by a tree seedling, and the groom's single-layer rich dark cake, decorated with gold leaf (for the gold and goods with which he endows his bride). Ivy wreaths circling the cakes emphasise the couple's affection.

(To the ancient Greeks ivy symbolised the indissoluble bond of marriage.) The seedling is planted at the wedding reception, usually held at dusk on sweeping lawns, often with lights strung among the trees, perhaps those planted by the bride's parents and grandparents on their wedding days. Bermuda cedars were once a favourite wedding tree: today casuarinas or poincianas are often substituted.

Traditional wedding-cake decorations of doves, bells, cupids, orange blossoms, white roses and horseshoes have been joined in recent years by decorations expressing the couple's interests. When it came to the wedding of my 2 sons, it was impossible to get ready-made figures that reflected them. The youngest is a police officer, and how many policeman wedding figures have you seen in the shops? The other one is an engineer, but his passion is sailing. Perhaps you've seen wedding cake figures of old-fashioned sailors, but this was no good for him. He was into oceangoing sailing, and he was a stickler for perfection, so nothing but an accurately portrayed sailor with inflatable life vest, wet weather gear and safety flares would do.

Have you ever used Miliput? It's a coloured modelling clay that you bake in the oven when you made your model. Well, it took many enjoyable hours to produce a police officer (with his bride handcuffed securely to him) and an oceangoing sailor and sailoress, join together with safety harnesses. Fortunately, all members of my string quartet and barn dance band had been married for some time, so I'm not going to be challenged to making figures of violinists and cellists.

Cakes have been adorned with tennis rackets, motor racing flags, violins, or toy soldiers, although the traditional bride and groom dolls remain firm favourites also. When Governor Ronald Reagan married in California, his wedding cake duplicated in sugar his life-sized portrait and Jack Webb, the actor, chose a cake entirely covered with police badges in coloured icing. Queen Victoria's wedding cake bore the traditional cupids and a figure of Britannia. Ring cakes — in the shape of the wedding ring, iced as such and with the couple's initials in silver, are popular in America. Lucky trinkets — a heart, coin, wishbone, thimble, button, ring or other favours — are still sometimes hidden in wedding cakes and their finders are assured of the traditional rewards of money, marriage and luck. At Prince Albert's wedding the bride pulled forward by broad satin ribbons a precut slice of the nine-foot wedding cake which contained seven (a lucky number in its own right) pure gold charms: and observers reported with some amusement that sedate and elderly courtiers jostled with the rest in the hope of getting a slice with a trinket.

A bride should never bake her own wedding cake, also it is said, even though this is a good economic step; this brings bad luck. It's a load of rubbish really. I remember turning up for a wedding at a large prestigious venue, with my string quartet, with probably half an hour to get ready. There's a lady they're doing the flower arrangements. I'd been chatting to her for a few moments before I realised that was the bride. She hadn't even got changed. About 15 minutes before the ceremony, she disappeared and, amazingly, she was spot on time for the ceremony in wedding dress and looking beautiful. It can be done!

We've also done many ceilidhs and barn dances with the bride and groom have prepared all the food, admittedly with some help from parents and friends, but having, in contact with a few it seems to have brought them very good luck.

But with the groom's help she cuts the first slice of cake herself, or she will be childless and every guest must join her in eating a little after she and the groom have exchanged and eaten a few crumbs. To taste the cake beforehand forfeits a husband's love, but a fragment preserved ensures his lifelong fidelity. A bridesmaid who carries wedding cake in her pocket until the honeymoon is over will soon marry. After the first wedding in a family, part of the cake must be kept in the house until all the unmarried daughters are wed, or they are doomed to spinsterhood. The sword or knife used to cut the cake is decorated with tulle bows, wax orange blossoms and a festoon of white satin ribbons. American brides often preserve the silver cake knife, suitably engraved with date and initials, as an heirloom for their daughters. One Canadian family cuts all its wedding cakes with the historic Rogers sword, brought to Canada from England in 1780 by Major Robert Rogers of the Rogers' Rangers. In the past few years, while in the keeping of Mrs Douglas Jennings of Toronto, the sword has cut no fewer than twelve wedding cakes, and although no records have been kept, probably hundreds over the past century.


We have on a couple of occasions done the wedding for stance with our string quartet, but this is very unusual. This is normally the task of the jazz band or barn dance band. So let's see how our ceilidh band first dances tie-up with what we do in actuality.

We regularly played for the wedding meal, or wedding breakfast, with our string quartet. Sometimes the couple will hire a jazz band to play during the meal, normally a lounge jazz trio or quartet, a group playing gentle laid-back jazz. On occasions, when they've booked a barn dance band for their evening entertainment, we have played background music during the meal.

The wedding breakfast is rich in its own traditions. In Normandy the bride kissed all the men as they entered and the groom kissed the girls. At a village wedding about 1930 at Ste Ursule, the feast was set in a great earth-floored barn. Each guest provided his own knife and fork. A woman from a neighbouring village, famous for her wedding luncheons, prepared rabbits, ducks, chickens, turkey, fish and mutton, and serving the eight or nine courses (with each dish passing righthanded to honour the sun) took many hours. The bridegroom assisted, distinguished by a white ribbon swinging from his left shoulder, laying the first cut of all the meats before his wife as tradition demanded. (If the bride wishes to be happy she must taste and share with her husband a little of every dish served at the wedding feast.) For twenty-four hours there was little concern for anything but eating and drinking, though there were customary interludes. The elderly assistant cooks entered to intone the solemn 'bride's song', soberly recalling life's fleeting years; then at a secret signal a small boy crept gleefully beneath the table to snatch the bride's garter, fastened above her knee. To everyone's delight she screamed and fell into her husband's arms, as though she had never heard of the joke par excellence of generations. The room rocked with the guests' merriment, and each was given a miniature garter of wax orange blossoms, ribbons and tiny bells, to wear on his coat. Then the singing began: ripe songs of experience dealt in the frankest way with married life, but no one was offended, for as the guests said, 'If you cannot discuss the functions of marriage at the marriage feast, where can you discuss them?'

Noble feasts have adorned weddings in very different circumstances: on the table at the Wilcox Log Tavern wedding in 1841, of William McElroy and Lucinda Collins, the first wedding ever to take place in Waupun, Wisconsin, there was 'a big gobbler, fattened for the occasion ... a bowl of pickled cabbage, a dish of baked beans, a plate of boiled beets fantastically decorated with cloves, and after that the crowning dish of all — a glorious jelly cake, well seasoned with ginger, and molasses plentifully spread between the layers of jelly.' By contrast with this cheerful improvisation, at the White House weddings of the same century bills of fare were printed on white satin and (at President Cleveland's wedding) the great floral ship Hymen sailed with silver-monogrammed white pennants in the State Dining-Room. Hollywood has been no less lavish. When Lana Turner married Bob Topping, life-sized statues of bride and groom carved from ice, and giant baked hams with 'I love you' spelled out on their sides with pimentos, greeted the guests.