Culinary traditions to inspire wedding feasts, fantasies
by Wanda Hennig, CuisineNoirMag
Have you checked the bridal magazines section of your local bookstore lately? The magazines are glossy and glitzy and there are lots of them. On seductive covers and inside, I saw drop-dead gorgeous gowns, fantastical flower arrangements, breathtaking creative cakes, divinely-dressed tables — and color-coordinated decorative bites that showed food as an accessory. Pretty, yes. But did I want to eat it? Not really.
Did I see culinary trends? Indeed. These chic and pretty presentations must be the trend because, well, not one magazine showed anything different.
Was I inspired? I can’t say I was. The wedding ceremony, wherever in the world it takes place, is about ritual and tradition. Isn’t it?
Perhaps for some people, commercialized modern-day wedding fantasy qualifies as ritual. I’m sure for those who have created the products and who feed off the market, it does. It doesn’t cut it for me, I confess.
Did I see tradition? I can’t say I saw that, either. So I thought I’d share a few traditions and ideas: some old, some new, some borrowed and adapted; none blue. But I think that’s okay.
A South African – American Wedding
In 1986, I interviewed the first mixed race couple to legally marry in South Africa. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, an apartheid law introduced in South Africa in 1949 that made it illegal for people of mixed races to marry each other, was repealed on the eve of their marriage.
Suzanne Leclerk was from the United States. Protas Madlala, her Zulu husband, was South African. To quote from my story that ran in South African Cosmopolitan magazine:
To accommodate one another, they had two receptions. The Western one was a garden party with champagne, finger sandwiches, a wedding cake and a choir. The Zulu one was a jolly affair with tribal dancing, a slaughtered cow — and hundreds of people who crowded in to see whether what they’d heard was true. Suzanne sets the scene:
“With an African wedding, there is no such thing as ‘by invitation only.’ You send invitations to those you want. The rest — they come anyway.”
The Western-style reception was held immediately after the church service at a friend’s estate. Only specially invited guests were given the address. It was a sedate, friendly affair with the bride resplendent in the lace wedding dress she made herself. From there they went back to Protas’s township home. “When we arrived, we didn’t think we’d be able to get out of the car, there were so many people. My mom was scared to death. She didn’t know what was happening.
“People gathered around and danced. We sat there till the sun went down.” The guests ate meat from the cow, slaughtered the day before the wedding. “In Zulu tradition, Protas presented it to my mom as a gift from the Madlala family, deceased and living, to the Leclerc family, deceased and living.”
“I wore Zulu beads. We made Zulu beer and had a big feast. A lot of men came and did dances for me outside. It was quite fun. They all got drunk and fell over each other …” She laughs at the memory.
Have Your Cake and Savory It Too
In this case, the bride was from Israel and the groom was South African. It was a second marriage for both and what was most memorable was the wedding cake; a two-tiered pastel vision in pinks and creams, gorgeously decorated with edible flowers to match those adorning the tables. The brother of the bride had flown with the cake on ice from somewhere in Europe, where he had a hotel to the wedding in South Africa. He had heeded his sister’s request for a “postmodern cake.”
“I remember,” she says, “how it looked like any regular cake, with white and salmon colored icing. My brother remembered how much I love smoked salmon. The icing was cream cheese and the salmon piping was cream cheese blended with real salmon; inside was made of croissant pastry and slithers of smoked salmon. He had a pastry chef make it up specially.” A case of reinventing tradition and going outside the box — deliciously.
It Doesn’t Have to be Fancy
That’s the title of Chapter 8, “Pies, Custards, Cobblers, and Puddings,” in the late Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s. “The Gift of Southern Cooking — Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks.” (Knopf, 2003.)
The authors, co-founders of the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, a precursor to the Southern Foodways Alliance, in my opinion give all the tips and ideas anyone with a penchant for Southern cuisine needs to plan a wedding feast.
“There’s an old saying that what grows together goes together, and the dishes we put on our table have that natural seasonal affinity,” Peacock says in his introduction. Any bride, mother-of-the-bride, or wedding caterer would do well to keep this in mind when planning a wedding menu.
Whoever is going to make the eats for your wedding — a caterer or a family member — and whether you’re going to have a sit-down meal, a buffet, a breakfast, tea, or cocktail-style affair; choose food you love. If it’s something you love, then just like the person you’re marrying, it will be special.
Yes, you’ll want to make it party fare; you want to make it pretty; you want to amp it up a few notches. You want the oohs and aahs.
And you want to refine it so it’s easy to eat with fork or spoon, and not messy if it’s finger food. (There’s a time and place for juicy bites, bibs, and dribbles, but not at your wedding. There’s also a time and place for heavy food, but not for a bride or groom with romantic intentions.
Weddings have been going on in different forms since time immemorial. When a wedding involves family and friends, which it invariably does unless one elopes or is keeping it a secret, part of the ritual is the food. Having said that, this is your wedding. Create your own tips and trends. Make it your day. Special — and delicious.