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History of the Wedding Cake in America


Table set with a wedding cake and fruits, Victor, Iowa., Digital ID G90F190_030F, New York Public LibraryWhile some married couples uphold the tradition of freezing the remaining pieces of their wedding cake (often the very top tier or the slice the bride and groom fed to each other during the reception) to be enjoyed again on the celebration of the first wedding anniversary; it didn’t quite go that way in my home. In fact, I made room for it right in my fridge, and my husband and I continued to carve away at for just about a week until we were thoroughly weary of it. As we mark our third anniversary this week, we’ve been reminiscing about the sinful goodness of our hazelnut crème-filled cake with espresso-flavored icing from that late summer evening. This provoked the brief research I conducted on American wedding cakes of yesteryear...

On page 76 of Lydia Maria Francis Child’s The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy (1829), under the heading “Common Cakes” is a recipe for wedding cake. Fun to note is that the recipes surrounding this one include desserts such as Short Cake, Indian Cakes, Dough Nuts, and Election Cake. The ingredients in the recipe for Wedding Cake are a bit intimidating and appear as follows:

Good common wedding cake may be made thus: four pounds of flour, three pounds of butter, three pounds of sugar, four pounds of currants, two pounds of raisins, twenty-four eggs, half a pint of brandy, or lemon brandy, one ounce of mace, and three nutmegs. A little molasses makes it dark colored, which is desirable. Half a pound of citron improves it; but it is not necessary. To be baked two hours and a half, or three hours. After the oven is cleared, it is well to shut the door for eight of ten minutes, to let the violence of the heat subside, before cake or bread is put in.

To make icing for your wedding cake, beat the whites of eggs to an entire froth, and to each egg add five tea-spoonfuls of sifted loaf sugar, gradually; beat it a great while. Put it on when cake is hot, or cold, as is most convenient. It will dry in a warm room, a short distance from a gentle fire, or in a warm oven.

First published in 1829 in Boston, by 1838 Child’s book promoting self-sufficiency and thriftiness of the American homemaker was in its 21st edition. The title was changed to The American Frugal Housewife in its eighth edition, as not to be confused with another book on cookery and housewifery published in England in the late 18th century. The New York Public Library owns various editions of Child’s book, and they can be found in the online catalog.

Feeding America, The Historic American Cookbook Project, produced by Michigan State University Libraries, has digitized an edition of The Frugal Housewife published in 1830 along with 75 other cookbooks. In addition to the digitized text (a PDF that is downloadable) is an interesting biography about the author.


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