Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

by Simon Charsley
     
 

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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

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.

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)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780415026499
Publisher:
Taylor & Francis, Inc.
Publication date:
06/05/1992
Pages:
162
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 2.00(d)

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