Today I will delve a little deeper into the tradition of a groom’s cake. In last Friday’s Fire Star Press (an imprint of Prairie Rose Publications) post I touched on my personal adventures—or more accurately, misadventures—with my own family’s tradition of providing a fruitcake groom’s cake at family wedding receptions. If you missed the post, "Nutty About Fruitcake," you can find it by clicking HERE.
|sugarloaf courtesy |
Petr Adam Dohnálek
The first thing to keep in mind is that it hasn’t been that long that cakes as we know them today have even been a possibility. It wasn’t until finely milled flour and baking soda were introduced in the eighteenth century that cake as we know it, light and fluffy, came into existence.
It was not until the late eighteenth century that sugar prices were such that processed sugar became available to the general populous of Europe. Even then, sugar was not granulated as we know it today, but in the form of a sugarloaf and consumers required sugar nips, a pliers-like tool, to break off pieces. Prior to that, except for the well-to-do, use of sweeteners like honey and fruit in food were a rare treat. The earliest known use of frosting on a cake dates to about 1750.
The earliest known tradition of a groom’s “cake” goes back to Roman times. A loaf of barley bread was baked for the groom to eat part of before he broke the rest of the loaf over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple.
|Croquembouche- still used in France|
In medieval England, the cake described in historic accounts was not a cake in the conventional sense. They were described as flour-based sweet foods as opposed to the description of breads that were just flour-based foods without sweetening. In Medieval England, cakes or sweet rolls were stacked as high as possible between the bride and groom who were to then kiss each other without knocking the stack over. A successful kiss meant they were guaranteed a prosperous life together.
In the early 19th century, a popular dish being served was something known as bride’s pie. First appearing in the mid-17th century, the pie was filled with sweet breads, mince meat or, or by some accounts, just a simple mutton pie. The main ingredient was a glass ring. An old adage claims that the lady who finds the ring will be the next to wed. Though bride’s pies were not a fixture at weddings, there were accounts of these pies being the main centerpiece at less affluent ceremonies.
In the late 19th century, the wedding cake became popular, ousting the bride’s pie from popular culture. The cakes were originally given the title “bride cakes” to emphasize that the focal point of the wedding was the bride. The early cakes were simple single-tiered cakes, usually a plum cake, although other types of cake were acceptable.
As white flour and white sugar became more widely available, Europeans came up with the tradition of a white bride’s cake for the wedding, the white being a symbol of purity.
The more modern tradition of the groom's cake began in Britain. The groom's cake was
usually dark and solid and much smaller than the wedding cake, often richer
than the bride's cake. It was traditionally made with fruit and liquor to
preserve it, since stronger flavors such as chocolate, fruitcake, and alcohol
were considered more appropriate to "the stronger sex."
|Courtesy Eastlake Victorian|
Groom's cakes during the Victorian era were heavy, dense fruitcakes. That definitely would describe my grandmother’s fruitcake recipe. A part of the groom’s cake was to be saved to be eaten at the christening of their first child, which, in the days before freezers, explains why my otherwise teetotaler grandmother soaked the cheese cloths with which she swathed her fruitcakes with rum.
A groom’s cake could also be sliced and wrapped ahead of time for guests to take home or to be sent to others who could not attend so they could also celebrate the couple’s good fortune. Single bridesmaids often put a piece of groom’s cake under their pillows in order to dream of their future marriage partners.
The tradition of a groom’s cake has died out in England where it originated and in most of the United States except in the South. However, the nature of the groom’s cake has changed. It is often not a fruitcake, but may be either a white or chocolate cake and decorated to reflect the interests of the groom.
My family is not from the South. In 1857, my grandmother’s mother traveled from England along the Mormon Trail, which was roughly the same as the Oregon and California trail, in a covered wagon when my great-grandmother was a young girl, not much older than this picture of my grandmother when she was about twelve. My great-grandfather was a young boy born in England when his family traveled that same trail in 1855.
Whether my great-great grandmother brought the tradition of groom’s cake made of fruitcake with her, or whether either my great-grandmother or grandmother picked up on its popularity once the tradition came into vogue in Great Britain, the land of my great-grandparents’ nativity, I don’t know. All I know is that I now possess my grandmother’s secret family recipe for fruitcake, I have had a groom’s cake made from her recipe at both of my weddings, and, although largely ignored by them, I managed to wrangle a groom’s cake from her recipe in most of my children’s wedding receptions. Whether or not in my family the tradition of a groom’s cake made from grandmother’s recipe will die with me remains to be seen. But, for those who enjoy the wedding traditions of an earlier time, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the history of groom’s cakes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications.
Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.