“Ah! poor Miss Taylor. She would be very glad to stay.” There was no recovering Miss Taylor — nor much likelihood of ceasing to pity her: but a few weeks brought some alleviation to Mr. Woodhouse. The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him, he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse’s life; and, upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge, (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many — perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone.
Emma, Chapter 1
From the beginning of this novel we are thrown amid the turmoil weddings can cause. Mr Woodhouse’s antipathy towards matrimony is admirably displayed in his attitude towards the consumption of the most important part of a wedding breakfast-the wedding cake. Poor Mr Woodhouse-so distressed by the mere sight of it.
What would Poor Miss Taylor’s Wedding cake have been like? Let’s see shall we?
Wedding Pies-fruit loaves encased in pastry or elaborate marchpanes made of marzipan- were served at weddings throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and the tradition of a bride pie containing a glass ring, survived in Scotland well into the early 19th century. The idea of the glass ring was very similar to the bean found in the old Twelfth Night Cake- and it would be used give an indication not of the King for the night but of the next person to be married. Whosoever found it was the chosen one …
However from the mid 18th century a new style of confection arrived on the scene : The Bride Cake, which began to be known around 1800 as a Wedding Cake.
The earliest printed recipe for a bride cake that we know of was created by that extraordinary woman, Elizabeth Raffald.
Elizabeth Raffald was an entrepreneur supreme.
She was born Elizabeth Whittaker, in Doncaster, Yorkshire in 1733, and worked as a housekeeper to several families, the last of which were the Warburton’s of Arley Hall in Cheshire. This was where she met and married their gardener, John Raffald.
It would appear that on their marriage in 1763 both their employments with the family were terminated ( a not uncommon situation) and the newly -weds moved to Manchester, where Elizabeth kept a confectioner’s and perfumer’s shop while her husband ran a market stall selling vegetables, for as his family were the possessors of many market gardens in the area, they could keep him supplied with his stock in trade.
Together they eventually took over the running of inns; first, The Bull’s Head Inn in the Market Place in Manchester , and then the King’s Head Inn in Salford, complete with a 40 foot long assembly room. This was where Elizabeth honed her culinary skills which had been learned while she was in service : her she ran a cookery school where she undertook the training of young ladies, and where she began collecting and inventing recipes and eventually publishing her book “The Experienced English Housekeeper” , which was dedicated to her old employer, Lady Warburton( a smart commercial move)
It was an instant success, reprinted many times, and though it was much copied –as we shall see below- it made her a wealthy woman.
She also opened, again in Manchester, the first Registry for Servants, and compiled two editions of her influential and successful “Directory of Manchester”
She also wrote another book on midwifery.
Sadly , her husband developed a drinking problem and despite all her hard work and success, he ran up heavy debts.
She was in the process of preparing a third edition of her Directory to begin to replay these debts when in April 19th 1781 she suddenly died of a “spasm”, which in our understanding probably means she suffered a stroke. She was buried at Stockport Parish Church.
In her book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) she gave this account of how to cook cakes in general- do note her interesting remarks about wooden garths or hoops being preferable to tin ones:
She then gives her recipe for what eventually translated into the type of wedding cake eaten at most wedding in England for the past 250 years( though the fashion has changed somewhat recently);
The cake she recommended is then covered in a layer of marzipan, -possibly a hark back to the age of the marchpanes of the 16th and 17th centuries, which were made of marzipan , cooked in an oven briefly to dry and them gilded with designs and conceits and because of their association with wedding feast , the marzipan became known a “ love” or a “matrimony”.
She then recommends that on top of the marzipan layer, icing –basically what we now know as Royal Icing- is spread over the marzipan covered cake :
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for her Bride Cake marked a departure from the old Bride Pies which were basically dough cakes made with fruit and risen with yeast. Though she used dried fruits( though not as much as in modern recipes) her cake eschews years and has eggs as its raising agent.
These great cake were certainly the ones Jane Austen referred to in Chapter 1 of Emma. William Henderson in his recipe book, The Housekeepers Instructor or New Universal Cook, of 1806
gave this recipe, which was you can see is virtually identical to Mrs Raffald’s.
His only departure from her text to is give more detailed cooking instructions-send it to a moderate oven– probably due to the advances in cast iron range ovens that were available to him and other cooks of the period.
Would the cake have been plain or was it decorated? Debate still rages in the historical food world on this point, but some evidence from good old Parson Woodforde throws some light on this vexed question.
James Woodforde was a not very remarkable Anglican parson, living in Norfolk in his parish of Weston Longeville but his magical legacy to us is his detailed dairy of his life ,habits, travels and food which he compiled for over 45 years. This is what he has to say about wedding- cakes:
June 1st 1795.
..Mr Custance brought us the Morn’ two Maccarel. Dinner to day, Maccarel & Shoulder of Veal. Mr and Mrs Bodham sent over to enquire after us this Morning from Mattishll-Want to see us. Mr Custance sent us this Evening a large piece of a fine Wedding Cake sent from London to Mr C on the marriage of Miss Durrant (Daughter of Lady Durrant) and Captain Swinfen of Swinfen Hall in the County of Stafford, eldest Son of____Swinfen esq. Very curious devices on the Top of the Cake
(See Dairy of A Country Parson Edited by John Beresford, Volume IV pp200-201.)
Ivan Day in his chapter Bride Cup and Cake in Food and the Rite of Passage edited by Laura Mason, points out that Mrs Frazer, confectioner of Edinburgh, gives details of how to decorate a Plumb Cake with such devices, in her book:
(I do apologise for the rather tatty appearance of this frontispice_the rest of the books is perfect, but the frontispiece is in a dreadful condition).
Ivan therefore concludes that a Bride cake might well have looked like a pale version of a great decorated 12th night cake, decorated with pastillage decorations, formed by using boxwood moulds as we saw in our post in Twelfth Cakes, here.
(Here is my view of our Twelfth night Cake suitably manipulated to look white-well, white-ish)
And it was most probably white, though late in the 1820s there was some indication- notably by “Mistress Margaret Meg Dods”-
that the bride cake could also be pink, just like the recipes given for Twelfth Night Cakes by John Mollond and Duncan MacDonald.
The Victorians changed all that and great fruit cakes, covered with marzipan and white royal icing and icing decoration became the norm for weddings in England until very recently.
I find it fascinating to see how the tradition of the Bride/Wedding cake and the Twelfth Night Cake morphed together: and of course given the difficulty and expense of making pastillage decoration it is no surprise that the making of a wedding cake eventually became the sole preserve of professional confectioners.
So the you have it, Miss Taylors Wedding cake, a thing not dissimilar to the one I had at my wedding 20+years ago.
With its richness, no wonder Mr Woodhouse was concerned. But thank goodness for the good sense of Mr Perry, which reigned supreme ;-)
There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it.
Emma, Chapter 1