It all makes sense now—kind of.

By Emily Platt
Jacqueline Campbell

Alongside matrimony comes a slew of traditions, from kissing the bride to tossing the bouquet. But a certain ritual extends far beyond the wedding day, leaving many to wonder, well, why? Saving the top tier stems back centuries and gives couples the chance to indulge in their confection outside of that one precious wedding-day bite. But where did the tradition start, and why just the top tier?

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Multi-tiered wedding cakes have been the norm since the 19th century, says food journal Gastronomica. Royal cakes, from which they originated, most often had three parts-a top, middle, and bottom tier. When Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip in 1947, each tier of her cake had a different purpose: one for the wedding, one sent off as a gift, and one preserved for a future occasion. We're guessing that's what led to the modern ritual, which calls for slicing the bottom tier at the reception, sending pieces of the middle tier off with departing guests, and saving the top tier for something special.

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As for the origin of that "something special?" Rumor has it that way back when, it was pretty much guaranteed that a married woman would give birth within a year of her wedding. Rather than go through the trouble of acquiring a whole 'nother cake, couples would thaw and re-use their leftover wedding cake for their new son or daughter's christening. This also makes sense in the context of royal inspiration-that's exactly what Queen Elizabeth II saved hers for.

Today, the tradition's been slightly modified, and it's now customary for brides and grooms to store their top tier for their first anniversary, when they can once-again dig in to celebrate how far they've come. Of course, that's not the only thing that's changed in the past few centuries. Cakes, which were once drenched in sustainable ingredients like liqueur, now boast more complex flavors and in turn, more variable shelf lives, making keeping the cake appear impractical to some.

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Luckily, the wedding industry has taken note, providing modern marrieds with an array of options to preserve the preservation tradition. When planning your own special day, consult your caterer, who may offer a smaller, duplicate cake that can be picked up in a year (or may help you preserve your true top tier). Or, utilize newer services like Take The Cake, which promises to wrap, store, and ship your original leftovers.

THE MEANING BEHIND MORE WEDDING TRADITIONS AND SUPERSTITIONS

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Comments (8)

Anonymous
November 14, 2010
i honestly think that saving a cake for a year sounds really gross! i would rather just buy a smaller version of the same cake for the year anniversary or child's christening!
Anonymous
March 21, 2009
having grown up in Canada in an English family now living in OZ ( home of fondant iced cakes) Fruit cake is the only cake to serve at milestone events.We were married in Canada and our cake top was served in Oz at our first child's baptism 13 months later. Beautiful ! There would be fewer divorces if people only had fruit cakes at weddings.
Anonymous
March 21, 2009
In England the tradition is to have the top tier - which would be a rich fruit cake - kept after the big day and saved for the Christening of the couples first child. I love this idea, but also really like the first anniversary thought too esp as nowadays it could be quite a while before a child is born and Christened :-)
Anonymous
March 21, 2009
love the idea of the ice cream pail. How simple. I don't think your cake will stay as fresh if you cut it, but packaging it is the key to the freshness. make sure you put saran wrap up against the part that you cut to sort of seal it.
Anonymous
March 20, 2009
Our bakery offered us a free small cake on our anniversary (flavor of our choice), so we didn't have to freeze our top layer. Which is good, because I moved from Massachusetts to Montreal after our wedding - the cake wouldn't have done well on the trip! I like the tradition, but can't see how using up valuable freezer space to eat year-old cake would be very good.
Anonymous
March 20, 2009
Instead of having our top layer frozen, we are having our baker make the top layer for us a year from now, that way it will be nice and fresh!
Anonymous
February 2, 2009
We're going to have cupcakes and a small cake at the top of the cupcake tier to cut and preserve. Can the cake be preserved once it has been cut?
Anonymous
January 8, 2009
Eat a gallon of ice cream and place the cake wrapped in plastic in the empty container this will keep the cake as fresh as on your wedding day. (It won't have any trouble being stored in the freezer either cake boxes tend to be flimsy)