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Disclaimer:To further my knowledge of cake decorating and the Wilton family, it was my first intention to do a book report on the Wiltons and their progress through the years. I soon realized that finding said information was near impossible without internet help. Though it is obvious that my research on the history of cake decorating was more informative, the research found in the Wilton book can be found by clicking here.

The History of Cake Decorating

Cakes and cake decorating are examples of ways culture can be found in discourses of everyday things. Though we, as Americans, seem to take food and celebration for granted, when the traditions first began, each detail was representative of the hopes and dreams of the culture through all types of discourses. By taking a look at examples of cakes, decorations, and celebrations of history, it should be more evident that cakes and cake decorating really do have an important place in the ethnography of our culture, and dependent upon how one presents their creations, determines what type of effect or meaning the cake is going to have for the culture.

The first wedding cakes were made during the days of the Roman Empire. They were very thin and resembled bread more than the cakes we see today. The “cake” was broken over the bride’s head by the groom. Guests of the wedding would try and pick up pieces of the broken cake to keep for good luck. Since the cake crumbs continuously found their way into the bride's hair, the veil was eventually created to prevent this occurance, but that is a different story. Besides being seen as a charm of good fortune the cake was also a symbol of fruitfulness. Luck itself represents a sense of culture. If people feel the small bits of cake held some superstitious rite that granted good luck, it is obvious that the tradition of breaking the cake was important to the culture. Also, as I’ve learned in Anthropology, symbols directly coincide with a culture through the discourse-centered approach to the definition of culture. In addition, the cakes were, in many instances, baked in the shapes of birds and grain. This represents how the cakes were not only symbolic discourses, but iconic discourses as well. The cake took on the form of real objects that held the fertility and freedom that the cake symbolized. Moreover, the wedding cake has traditionally been found in the color white. This color is iconically representative of purity to the people who use it on wedding cakes. The color was appropriate for a wedding cake because a wedding is supposed to be a bond between a pure woman and man. As time has passed, the color white in weddings has seemed to lose some of it's meaning, but they still use white in both wedding cakes and wedding gowns, very often.

Tiered cakes are a symbol of prosperity. A tiered cake is a cake that is made of two ore more layers of different sizes. This symbolic representation began in the Anglo-Saxon times. Guests of the wedding were expected to bring a small cake and put them all in a big pile. The bride and the groom were then expected to kiss over top of the heap of cakes. As time went on, and technology and health inspections advanced, the tiered cake was developed in France. The cakes were stacked successively from largest to smallest. Around 1902, the tiers of the wedding cake began being separated by columns, which were usually desguised pieces of broom handle. It is said that by using columns to separate the layers of the cake, it kept the higher layers from sinking into the lower layers. It was a way for the more skilled bakers to show off their elaborate cakes and their engineering skills. Using the tiers to represent the hierarchy of the English monarchy definitely is a represenation of their culture through the cakes.

All in all, though there are many types of cakes, and many different reasons for having them, the wedding cake is the most recongizable for it's symbolic meanings and effect on culture throughout history. Also, if one chooses to use their license to decorate to it's highest potential, it will effect not only the people who are being served, but the culture it's being served in as well.

~April Drake

Works Consulted:

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