Wedding Cakes throughout history

In the last issue of Gastronomica, Carol Wilson looks at the history of the wedding cake.

Since antiquity, weddings customarily have been celebrated with a special cake. Ancient Roman wedding ceremonies were finalized by breaking a cake of wheat or barley (mustaceum) over the bride’s head as a symbol of good fortune. The newly married couple then ate a few crumbs in a custom known as confarreatio—eating together. Afterwards, the wedding guests gathered up the crumbs as tokens of good luck. The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), wrote that the breaking of the cake over the bride’s head mellowed into crumbling the sweet wheat cakes over her head. After all the cakes were used up, the guests were supplied with handfuls of confetto, a sweet mixture of nuts, dried fruit, and honeyed almonds. These sweetmeats were an important part of the wedding banquet and continued to be so for hundreds of years. Chronicles of the period record that in 1487 over two hundred and sixty pounds of “confetti” were consumed at the banquet following the wedding of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d’Este, son of Ercole i, Duke of Ferrara.