Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

Overview

Food and its preparation, in particular of so complex an item as a wedding cake, is particularly instructive and vividly illustrates the tradition and traditional values inherent in all foods. At once familiar in form, tradition, and ceremony, it represents a fascination and a range of problems with which anthropologists are only just beginning to work.

The wedding cake is a product of a complex, contingent, and continuing history, which illustrates and challenges theories of ...

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Overview

Food and its preparation, in particular of so complex an item as a wedding cake, is particularly instructive and vividly illustrates the tradition and traditional values inherent in all foods. At once familiar in form, tradition, and ceremony, it represents a fascination and a range of problems with which anthropologists are only just beginning to work.

The wedding cake is a product of a complex, contingent, and continuing history, which illustrates and challenges theories of "structuralism" and "neo-structuralism." In Wedding Cakes and Cultural History, this fascinating history becomes the basis for a discussion of how use and meaning are involved in the creation of cultural forms. The wedding cake has evolved on a time scale which can readily be encompassed in research and in ways that have been minutely charted in a wealth of successive recipes recorded from the late medieval period and set in Europe, America, and world contexts. In this field at least, the familiar furniture of the contemporary world can be observed taking shape. There can therefore be constructed a base against which to test out old ideas and from which a firmer account of processes of cultural change can be developed.

This fundamental contribution to the history of cakes has much to offer to readers interested in anthropology, material culture, popular ritual and its interpretation, folklore, and food and confectionary. Wedding Cakes and Cultural History is a challenging, yet very readable book which is of interest both for its own distinctive inquiry into cultural change and as an unusual yet accessible introduction to the relativity of culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``The earliest recipe recorded fromsic Britain for a dish specifically for a wedding is in fact a pie,'' writes Charsley, an anthropologist at the University of Glasgow. The wedding cake as we know it today--with its successively smaller layers, supporting pillars, fancy frosting and festoons--had its origins some hundred years later, in a confection that commemorated the marriage of one of Queen Victoria's daughters in 1859. Even then, a few refinements were missing: only the base tier was actually cake (the rest were pure sugar), and the layers were stacked like hat boxes. It would take the wedding of Prince Leopold in 1882 before guests could enjoy an entirely ``cake'' wedding cake, and another 20 years before the tiers were separated by columns (usually disguised pieces of a broom handle). There are many shrewd observations here, particularly those that link the evolving elaborateness of the wedding cakes to the growing commercialization of private ceremonies (most Victorian amateur bakers lacked the engineering skill to keep the higher layers from sinking into the lower ones). Charsley is also enlightening on the way the ritual of cake-cutting reflects the changing role of women in marriage. But general readers should be warned: Wedding Cakes is not a novelty item or gift book. Although Charsley's writing is relatively free of jargon, his book is clearly aimed at an academic audience; there is thorough documentation of such minutiae as flour proportion and the development of icing, and even the most intellectually inclined gourmands may quickly find that they have bitten off more than they can--or care to--chew. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415026482
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/1992
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 5.43 (h) x 0.28 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Foreword
Preface
Introduction 1
Pt. I Preliminaries
1 The British wedding cake in the late twentieth century 11
Cakes in weddings 11
Their form and ranges of variation 13
The changing trade in the 1980s 14
Does a wedding cake mean anything? 17
2 How distinctive is the British cake? 20
Europe 20
America 22
Australia 24
Outwith the west 26
Themes 28
3 Cultural creation: myth, history and language 29
The Victorian myth of origin 29
Cultural history and its problems 31
Recipes as evidence 32
'Wedding cake' and 'bride cake': terms in language 35
4 When the wedding cake was not yet and might never have been 37
Feasts, food and subtleties 37
Cake, great cakes and marriage rites 41
Alternatives and their persistence 46
Pt. II The making of the British wedding cake
5 Great cakes, plum(b) cakes and bride cakes 53
Great cakes for weddings 53
From great cakes to plum(b) cakes 54
The bride cake 56
Cakes for weddings and other festivities 60
6 Confectionery and icing 64
Sugarpaste and the beginnings of confectionery 64
Marchpanes 65
The development of icing 67
Double icing 70
Marzipan 72
Decoration and colour 74
Piping: 'a new art form' 77
7 The rise of the Victorian cake and its successors 82
Pieces montees 82
Royal weddings and the high rising cake 83
The trade and the three-tier standard 87
Separating the tiers 89
Colour, top pieces and other ornamentation 92
Pt. III Users, uses and meanings
8 Uses and their evolution 101
Cake-breaking 101
Dreaming and divination 107
Display 111
Cutting the cake 112
Keeping it for the christening 117
Conclusion: uses and forms 119
9 Meanings and interpretation 121
10 Towards a theory of cultural change? 128
Objects, custom and meanings 129
Phenomena of cultural change 132
Postscript 141
Notes 143
Bibliography 151
Index 159
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