Now there must be a wedding Now there must be a feast A feast, a feast, a smorgasbord at least A brunch, a munch of cake if just a piece - Prince, Wedding Feast
"Six limp green beans, small mound of rice, and one petrified pterodactyl wing," reads the e-mail from my brother. Within it, he's attached a low-res cell phone photo of the bleak meal just described; prehistoric-looking chicken and its funereal sides. He is waiting to eat until the hundred or so duplicate plates of food have been distributed to the guests at the wedding he's attending. "I sense a pizza in the near future," reads the next message. I hadn't been able to make it to the reception at which my brother had gone hungry that day, but I have a pretty accurate idea of what I missed. It was a cookie-cutter affair held in the ballroom of a franchise hotel in a medium-sized town in New England. Ironically, though buffets and stations are sometimes considered tacky in lieu of a plated dinner, I'll take an assembly line any day over the annoying assumption that everyone eats - and will be happy with - a dry piece of chicken. As with most weddings that cater to couples with little interest in food, a paltry plateful of mediocrity or worse is as standard as the DJ's dreaded attempts to motivate stagnant guests with the Chicken Dance.
To those bound for the aisle and drawn to the creative and organisational aspects of the whole affair, a wedding presents an opportunity to imagine, plot out and micromanage, where desired, an occasion intended to be a once in a lifetime event, and where the guests of honour have the option, more often than not in the developed world, of deciding how they'd like things to unfold over the course of the evening.
Being budget-conscious may have a lot to do with determining a choice of venue, entertainment, and bridal wear, for starters, but it has less to do with feeding guests well than one may think. Take the tiered wedding cake, for instance. Though I've known a couple of brides who have attempted their own cakes with varying degrees of success, the best cakes are usually made by professional bakers, are incredibly labour-intensive and time-consuming, and will be priced to reflect the quality of the ingredients used and the volume of blood, sweat and tears that went into it.
With so much focus on a dramatic centrepiece, it shouldn't come as a surprise that in parts of the world (Japan, the Muslim world) where the iconic white wedding is merely a symbolic or allegorical reference to marriage as defined by the law, people tend to have different values when it comes to authenticity. The cakes by which brides and grooms pose are often all smoke, mirrors and cardboard; stage props in which small portions of actual cake are hidden. My friend's resplendent May wedding came replete with a towering fake cake with an artificial base through which the newlyweds mistakenly struggled to slice, having been led to believe that it was the edible part of the sculpture.
As the couple co-handled the knife, servers balancing plates of pre-sliced cake sailed into the room in rapid succession. "If I'd had a smaller wedding," says my friend, "I'd have opted for a cake that was outrageously delicious above all else. But when you're feeding guests on a much grander scale, you have to consider your priorities and be willing to make a few compromises." Passing fads have included substituting pyramids of frosted cupcakes or towers of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for a traditional cake, though even a radical nonconformist can understand, if not appreciate, the classic tiered cake, at once generic and archetypal. Gathering to witness a newlywed couple as they slice into a cake and exchange tastes can be the most intimate act that occurs during the course of the evening at weddings where vows are not exchanged in front of an audience.
At some weddings, there may be a groom's cake alongside a tiered cake; usually a contrasting cake like dark chocolate or cheesecake, meant to offer guests an alternative, and superstitiously reckoned to induce visions of the proverbial Mr Right when a small slice is placed beneath an unwed woman's pillow. Because I am not a fan of super-sweet icings, I've never been fond of the traditional wedding cake with royal icing, and will always gladly pass on cake in favour of a good authentic croquembouche, which remains the traditional wedding dessert of France.
"In short, all the preparations made for the wedding were in rustic style, but abundant enough to feed an army." - Wedding feast scene in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Too many couples don't get the chance to enjoy a slice of their wedding cake until they fish it out of the freezer on their first anniversary. My favourite weddings tend to be small, musical, unfussy revelries, heavy on the family-style food and preferably held outdoors. If there are vows, then I'm usually focused on holding back tears. But more than anything, I love a wedding where the happy couple can partake in the fun and the food, along with everyone else, and this happens all too rarely.