The Delicious Stories Behind Popular Wedding Food Traditions
Weddings are full of symbolism — it’s there in the white dress, the vows and even the food you eat. Cake and bubbly seem like the perfect complements to a celebratory soiree, while elements like tossing rice and breaking bread can be downright cryptic. Below we explore the backstories of some of the most-popular (and decidedly delicious) wedding-food traditions around, so you can impress guests with all your newfound nuptial knowledge.
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Weddings are laced with symbols of fertility and abundance, and this rather odd custom of showering couples in rice is just one more way to wish them a lifetime of fruitfulness. The ancient Romans started the trend, tossing wheat and other grains — symbols of fertility — onto the newlyweds. The meaning of the gesture was slightly altered during the Middle Ages, when tossing it on the couple was believed to provide them with many children.
The toast originated in ancient Greek and Roman times, when, at gatherings, pitchers of wine were shared to pay homage to the gods and raising a glass to everyone’s health was standard practice. The event’s host would drink from his glass first, as a sign that the wine had not been poisoned, and in some cases would pour wine from his own cup into those of his guests. Guests would also clink glasses together, causing their drinks to spill over into the others’, as a sign of confidence and loyalty. The switch from wine to champagne to mark a celebration originated in the royal courts of Europe in the 18th century. The expensive drink was a major luxury item and status symbol, and was thus consumed by the aristocracy.
Sugar-coated almonds are commonly served at weddings in Mediterranean cultures and are rife with symbolism. The combination of sweet and bitter tastes represents the highs and lows of marriage. The almonds are also meant to bring health, happiness, wealth, fertility and longevity to the newlyweds. The sweets are typically served in small bags in odd numbers, a gesture that suggests that the couple’s bond will not be broken.
Preserving the Top of the Cake
In the 19th century in England, couples reserved the top of their cake for their first anniversary or the christening of their first child — whichever came first (though many expected it to be the latter). Classic English fruitcakes were easily preserved, thanks to the copious amount of brandy each recipe required, so the tradition (kind of) made sense.
The Groom's Cakes
The tradition of the groom’s cake can be traced back to Victorian England, where it was served alongside the wedding cake at the end of the reception. Originally a booze-infused fruitcake, the confection was considered a more “masculine” alternative to the light and elegantly decorated main cake. Traditionally, slices of the groom’s cake were boxed up and sent home with single female guests so they could place them under their pillows that night. Legend has it that each single lady would then dream of her future husband.
The tradition has its roots in Roman times, when a loaf of bread was broken over the heads of the newlyweds as an omen of good fortune. To this day, Greek mothers break bread over the heads of the newlyweds upon entry into their home, to symbolize their equal strength and ability to navigate hard times.