The Wedding Cake: A History


Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a couple of close friends from highschool. It got me thinking about wedding traditions, particularly the wedding cake. I thought that it would be interesting to explore the its origin, and how it has developed throughout history.

The original concept for the wedding cake can be found in the ancient Roman Empire. Unlike the sweet and heavily iced cakes of the 21st century, these were made of whole wheat flour. Although the preparation and decoration of the cakes was vastly different at this time, it still enjoyed the same attention and focus.

There are some curious wedding cake customs that are now long forgotten. Let’s just say that they are somewhat more eccentric than merely witnessing the newly weds cut the cake together…

For example, the aforementioned ancient bread cake was broken into small pieces over the bride’s head. Upon completing this ritual, guests would eat the pieces, as it was considered it to be a good omen. Can I just say that nobody better try this on my wedding day. I’m not getting up at 5am for styling just to have it turned into bread-hair.

From Medieval England, there are accounts of a custom that involved placing large amounts of sweet buns in front of the newly weds who would then attempt to kiss over the pile. If they were successful, it was considered as a sign that the couple would bear many children. This obsession with child-bearing also explains why fruit cake eventually became traditional at weddings – they were a sign of fertility and prosperity.

Always Impressive – The Croquembouche

Interestingly, the tradition of the sweet bun pile also unwittingly gave birth to a famous delicacy. It is said that a French pastry chef witnessed this custom in England and was inspired thusly to create the Croquembouche – a French wedding cake made out of a tower of profiteroles, topped with a halo of spun sugar. It was to become the signiature French wedding cake…as well as an elimination challenge in every season of Master Chef.

Around late 17th century, the wedding cake came to be known as the bride’s pie. Generally, they were mince pies made from sugary sweet breads. Every wedding guest was expected to eat a piece as it was considered both rude as well as extremely bad luck not to do so. A glass ring was hidden inside the pie, and it was believed that the female guest who found it would be the next one to be wed. This is of course reminiscent of the modern tradition of catching the bouquet.

Another interesting tradition from the 17th century was keeping a piece of cake under an unwed girl’s pillow. The custom was to break the cake into tiny pieces, which then were passed through the bride’s wedding ring. These pieces were then offered to the female guests to be placed under their pillows. By following this ritual, it was believed that they would dream of their future husband.

The 17th century also gave birth to the tradition of having two cakes – the bride’s and the groom’s. Personally, I was under the impression that this was a relatively new concept that allowed modern grooms to have a cake that wasn’t horrifyingly girly. Alas, it’s origins can be found in history.

A somewhat more…modern wedding cake.

Traditionally, the groom’s cake was a dark coloured fruit cake and was quite small in size. Comparatively, the bride’s was a simple, but large pound cake with white icing, which was used to symbolize virginity and purity.

It was during the 19th century that the groom’s cake began to disappear, as the bride’s was becoming more popular. This was largely due to sugar becoming more easily obtainable. However, this sweet commodity was still expensive and as such, only wealthy families could afford to have pure white icing. Consequently, it became something of a status symbol. This was proven only further when white icing was dubbed ‘royal icing’ after Queen Victoria used it for her own wedding cake.

The modern wedding cake, as we know it, originated from the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was married in 1882 and his cake was the first in recorded history to be completely edible. It was baked in separate layers and contained very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked together – a groundbreaking innovation that had never been used before. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of their size, internal support is sometimes added to each layer in the form of dowels.

So there you have it, a very brief history of the wedding cake. I must say that I had a fantastic time researching this topic – there were far more interesting and quirky anecdotes than I expected. In light of modern cakes being so versatile, and more of a reflection of the couple’s personalities, it was fascinating to discover the origins and long dead traditions of yesteryear.

In finishing, I’d like to thank Ryan and Tara for being the inspiration for this post. I know you’re going to have a wonderful (and hopefully cake-filled) life together.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward! 

Death by Chocolate – Hitler’s Camouflaged Bomb Plot


A big thanks to Katie for bringing this story to my attention. I majored in WWII History at uni, and my waist line currently majors in chocolate, so this is the perfect topic for me to discuss.

Newly uncovered WWII documents reveal that the Nazis were plotting to assassinate Winston Churchill with a bomb disguised as a chocolate bar. The plan was to coat the explosives with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then package them as ‘Peter’s’ branded chocolate bars. The idea was to have them smuggled into the War Cabinet’s dining room where Churchill and other important members of parliament would often meet. The device was designed to explode seven seconds after being unwrapped, killing everyone within a few metres of the sweet and sugary impact. The theory behind this plot was to exploit the Prime Minister’s weakness for chocolate.

1920’s Peter’s chocolate bar wrapper. Photo courtesy of The Candy Wrapper Archive.

Unfortunately for the Nazis, it wasn’t just their chocolate that was foiled. British spies discovered the plot and quickly warned one of MI5’s most senior intelligence chiefs – Lord Victor Rothschild. He proceeded to alert the nation and advised them to look out for exploding candy bars. He even had an illustrator friend, Laurence Fish, draw up pictures of the bars so he could distribute them amongst the public. Interestingly, Fish’s wife found the correspondence between her husband and Rothschild in 2009. The letter was dated May 4, 1943 and was marked ‘secret’. It detailed the German plot and supposedly included a rather poor drawing of the device by Rothschild.

Suffice to say, with the plot made public, there were no chocolate bombs exploding in parliament.

A little research on my behalf also revealed that chocolate wasn’t the only item that the Nazis were planning on using to disguise explosives. German saboteurs also utilized tinned plums, throat lozenges, shaving brushes, batteries, wood, and my personal favourite – stuffed dogs. I can’t imagine how the latter would even work.

I’d like to finish by thanking everyone who contacted me after my Darrell Lea article. It was incredibly touching and I very much appreciated it.

Have a lovely Thursday!

Cocktail Party: The Mojito


Hello all, welcome back!

We’re up to cocktail number four, albeit a day late. I offer my most sincerest apologies, I was feeling rather under the weather yesterday and needed a little disco nap before getting back on the party bus.

So, at this point of the night those of you who can hold their drink are ordering straight shots and those who are more like me are trying to prove that they’re “not that drunk” by attempting to correctly pronounce words such as onomatopoeia. That is something I seriously do.

Today we’re taking a hop across the water from Mexico to Cuba to taste the rum sodden and utterly delicious Mojito. Once again, the origins of this fruity delight are shrouded in many a controversy, so I’m going to tell just two of the most fascinating tales.

Apparently Ernest Hemmingway loved Mojitos. I think that whoever first spread that story confused the word ‘Mojito’ with ‘Booze’

Our first story claims that the Mojito was created by African slaves working in the sugar cane fields of Cuba in the late 19th Century. Supposedly, the drink’s name comes from the African word “mojo,” which mean “to place a spell.” This tale is however widely contested. Many historians believe that this story seems to be related to, or confused with the origin of the daiquiri, another popular Cuban cocktail made with rum, lime juice, and sugar.

A much more accepted story is that Sir Francis Drake was involved in the creation of the Mojito as far back as the 16th century. Drake was a celebrated naval captain and navigator during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. However, if you were a Spaniard at the time, Drake was an infamous pirate and slave trader who was responsible for the sacking of many ports and towns during the Spanish Armada. These acts persuaded Phillip II of Spain to not only place a bounty on his head, but to also plan an invasion of England.

If I may interject for just one moment – these dual perspectives of Drake are exactly why I adore history. There is almost always conflicting accounts and different ways of looking at situations and people. Some may call this lack of definitiveness frustrating. I call it fascinating.

Legend has it that Sir Richard Drake (an underling of Francis who was of no relation) prepared the first version of the drink using aguardiente, a primitive version of rum, which he mixed with sugar, lime and mint. According to the story, the drink was originally called “El Draque” which was Spanish for The Dragon, which was a homage to Sir Francis. Personally, I think this was just a clever ruse to secretly name it after himself.

From the high seas, the drink supposedly made its way to Cuba when these explorers, or pirates, landed to conduct treasure hunting expeditions throughout The Caribbean and Latin America. Interestingly enough, the fruity concoction was originally consumed for medicinal purposes. I think that sounds a great deal more appetising than the cherry flavoured cough syrup of my childhood. I’ll have to question my mum about why she didn’t just throw hard liquor my way.

Eventually, rum replaced the aguardiente and the Mojito, as we know it today, was born.

Recipe time!

Ingredients

40ml White Rum
30ml Lime Juice
3 Mint Leaves
2 tsp Sugar
Soda Water

Method

This is a really simple one.

Muddle the mint sprigs with the sugar and lime juice in a highball glass. Add the rum and top up with soda water. Garnish with sprig of mint leaves. Consume!

Mmm, refreshing.

I’ll try my best to knock out our next two cocktails over the weekend as promised. Unfortunately, I’m still not feeling 100%. Either way, I’ll make sure they’re served up to you as soon as possible.

Have a great weekend!

The Tale of the Oldest Surviving Whiskey


Happy Monday everybody!

I thought it would be quite fun to kick off the week with some alcohol! Isn’t that how everybody starts their Monday mornings? I kid, I kid. I am of course referring to an alcohol related topic and definitely not the hip flask I keep in my office desk.

Today we’re delving into the discovery of the oldest surviving whiskey to date. It’s really quite fascinating and I expect it will hold the interest of all of you booze hounds who are only here because of the ‘whiskey’ subject tag.

Our tale starts in 1907 with the Nimrod expedition to Antarctica by well renowned and respected explorer Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton was a principal figure in what is quite grandly referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He was considered to be a hero by his contemporaries and was appointed as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by King Edward VII. On a darker note, he also became increasingly well known for his alcoholism, particularly during World War I.

Shackleton clearly qualifies for the Historical Hotties list I run on Twitter and Pinterest

This was not Shackleton’s first time to the Antarctic. He was an experienced explorer and as such, knew the important provisions that were needed. Some of these included pickled herrings, mulligatawny soup, gooseberry jam, and marmalade. My mother always told me never to travel without a spare change of underwear and a large jar of gooseberry jam.

We have missed one provision though. Most importantly of all, Shackleton and his men required an impressive 25 cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey for those cold and lonely nights in the Antarctic. Furthermore, he ordered them with commemorative labels that were custom made for his expedition. Shackleton clearly knew how to party.

The exploration team spent two years in the Antarctic and managed to get as close to the south pole as any explorer had up until that point in time. However, despite this great feat, it seems that the men were absolute light weights because they left five crates of alcohol behind. For shame!

Shackleton’s whisky was forgotten until 2006, when conservators from the Antarctic Heritage Foundation found the five lost crates beneath Shackleton’s hut. Conservators spent a gruelling three years chipping away at a century of ice before they successfully rescued three of the crates.

The whiskey was subjected to a wide array of tests by chemists at Whyte & Mackay’s Invergordon distillery, with input from analysts at the Scotch Whiskey Research Institute in Edinburgh. Under sterile conditions, a sampling needle was passed through the cork of each bottle to remove a 100ml sample. Analysis revealed, amongst many other things, that the whisky was incredibly well-preserved and that the alcohol content stood at 47.3% – high enough to stop it from freezing. Another fascinating revelation was that the whisky was made with water from Loch Ness and peat from the Orkney Isles.

One of Shackleton’s original bottles – Only a select few have tasted the 116 year old whiskey, all in the name of science. And probably for the bragging rights.

I hope you didn’t think that was the end of the tale, because the plot thickens! Whyte and Mackay had an ulterior motive for having the whisky tested. Not only were they interested in the history of whisky making, they had every intention of attempting to remake the whisky for the modern-day market!

From the test results, master distiller, Richard Paterson managed to blend a number of concoctions similar to Shackleton’s whiskey. The final blend was then subjected to the same analysis as the original whiskey to check for authenticity.

The successful remake is now available in stores under the name ‘Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey.’ If you were thinking of tracking down some of these bad boys you will want to have a delicate palate and a healthy bank account because it’s going to set you back AU$199.99. Per bottle.

As a final note of interest – The bottles that travelled to Scotland for analysis will soon be returned to Shackleton’s hut for conservation purposes. For those who were paying close attention, you may have noticed that I only mentioned three of the five crates being recused from the Antarctic ice. Fortunately for us, the other two weren’t damaged or lost, they are still buried beneath in the ice. The label on these crates state that they are brandy, and they are yet to be analysed. Watch this space for further updates.

The Sandwich: An Origin Story


This week has seen two incredibly important landmark occasions. The first is the creation of the blog you’re currently reading! The second, and slightly less historically significant occurrence, is the 250th anniversary of the invention of the sandwich. And what better way to kick off a blog about food and history than an article about something so widely consumed?

Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? Well, besides my 7 year old self who used to hide them in the garbage bin after school. In my defense,  the canteen was selling meat pies and chicken fingers. Sorry mum!

On a side note, my housemate and I have put a great deal of time and effort into concocting the ultimate sandwich. We call it ‘The Perfect Storm’ and it’s a reflection of our highly sophisticated palates. This delectable testament to human will contains the following:

2 slices of 6 inch long garlic bread, toasted
Warm chicken
Crispy bacon
Avocado
Hash browns/potato gems (Although any kind of fried potato is acceptable)
Melted brie
Garlic aioli

That’s right, we double the garlic content. You’re welcome.

That edible monstrosity aside, back to the task at hand.

A substantial number of Westerners eat sandwiches on a daily basis – whether it be toasted, on brioche, or even something as simple as ham, cheese and tomato on white bread. However, so many of us are completely unaware of the origin story of our most commonly occuring lunch choice.  With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to the man who started it all…

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

From the looks of things, he may have enjoyed his sandwiches a tad too much


Now let’s at least try to take his title seriously. No? Fair enough.

John Montagu was born in 1718 to a well respected aristocratic family. However, due to an unstable childhood and inheriting little more than his title, he had to work quite hard in order to make a name for himself. He entered the world of politics  in 1739  by sitting in the House of Lords, and by 1744 he was invited to join the government as the First Lord of the Admiralty. Essentially this meant that he controlled  the administration of the British Navy. Throughout his life, Montagu would come to hold a number of important political roles as well as become heavily involved in the arts.

Montagu was also a patron of Captain James Cook who subsequently named quite a few islands after him. Some of these include:

  • The Sandwich Islands (Now Hawaii)
  • Montague Island (9km offshore from Narooma, NSW)
  • The South Sandwich Islands (Southern Atlantic Ocean)
  • Montague Island (Gulf of Alaska)

The South Sandwich Islands – Beautiful, but conspicuously devoid of toasties growing on trees

Unfortunately, Montagu was also a man who hasn’t had a particularly favourable reputation throughout history.   Although he held many important posts and was actively involved in both the Navy and Politics, most believe him to have been thoroughly corrupt and incompetent. This is mostly due to his membership with the Hell-Fire Club – a secret society that practiced ritual sacrifice to the Pagan gods Bacchus and Venus, amongst other dubious activities. It also doesn’t help that he was First Lord of the Admiralty during the American War of Independence and was therefore held partially responsible for Britain and the North’s defeat. Furthermore, he has been been branded as a notorious gambler, but more on that later.

So how did this simultaneously accomplished but historically criticized man come to be attributed with the invention of…

The Sandwich

Rumour has it that as an ardent gambler, Montagu would often not take the time for a proper meal during long sessions.  Instead, he would ask his servants to bring him meat between two slices of bread. This habit was quite well known by his gambling friends and as a result they began to order “the same as Sandwich!” Thus history was made and Montagu will be forever remembered as the man who invented the sandwich because he didn’t want to stop gambling, even to eat.

There is however an alternative to this story. There are a few scholars who scorn the idea of Montagu’s conversant gambling.  Biographers such as Nicholas Rodger  suggest that it is far more likely that due to his passionate naval and political commitments, he probably asked for his quick and easy meal at his work desk, as opposed to the card table.

Not only did Montagu invent a new kind of meal, he was simultaneously pushing the boundaries of social norms.  At the time, main meals involved elaborate carving rituals and took up a great deal of ones time. For Montagu to continue gambling (or working, depending on your school of thought) whilst eating was a shocking informality for a man of his station and social background. He would have come across as very daring and unconventional.

Anniversary

The invention of the sandwich is still honoured today and this week marks the 250th anniversary. The township of Sandwich has been celebrating  the occasion with sandwich making competitions and re-enactments of  Montagu asking for his meat and two slices of bread. The highlight of the week was a luncheon thrown by the current Earl of Sandwich. Personally, I hope that he served salads and mini quiches, just to be contrary.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first ever Delicious History post. I can assure you that I’ll be serving up plenty more in the new future. Yeah, see what I did there?


Fun Fact
: John Montagu’s ancestor, Sir Edward Montagu, had a choice when it came to his title – The Earl of Sandwich or the Earl of Portsmouth.

Spoiler Alert: He went with the former.

Can you imagine ordering a chicken and salad portsmouth from your local cafe? I didn’t think so.