In Mexico, wedding food contains a lot of fruit, symbolising sweetness in the marriage and of course, fertility. Elaborate fruit jellies are made and presented to the bride and her family. In parts of India, sweetmeats are served at the wedding for similar reasons. In Cape Malay cuisine, Muslims cook up extremely complex, rich dishes to show off both their hospitality, and their prosperity.
In Britain, reserved understatment capital of the world, we do not really get it right. The idea is there - get everyone together for the celebration, but collectively we are far more likely to have a light finger buffet than a full sit-down feast. The emphasis is on the celebrating, not necessarily on feasting.
There is one tradition we all adhere to though, and that is the wedding cake. These are elaborate, far more so than any other part of the wedding food. Wedding cakes are usually huge, three-tiered affairs, plastered in white icing to match the bride's dress. They are also almost always fruit cake as well. Whereas this is not necessarily the nationsl preference, it does lend itself nicely to the other purpose of the wedding cake. Fruit cake does not go stale very quickly, it is also quite dry, meaning it is more easily transported. It can be sent to far off relatives who cannot attend the wedding for instance. Pieces are often kept by the newly-weds as souvenirs of the day. It is a very British irony that the main focal point of the wedding feast is not designed to be eaten.
There are those, of course, who flaut tradition. My husband happens to like penguins, so for our wedding, we had a three-tier cake with sugar penguins sliding between the layers, and a bride and groom penguin sitting on top, complete with top hat and bridal veil. We also tried to keep everyone happy; we had one fruit layer, one chocolate and one sponge layer. We did send slices to obscure relatives (I think one bit made it to Peru in fact!) and we kept the sugar pengins as keepsakes.
My friend also had a wonderful cake at her wedding. Not only was it chocolate flavoured, it was also shaped like Terry Pratchett's Discworld - a cake turtle, with four sugar elephants supporting the 'disc' depicted in icing sugar on the top.
This was not the only thing unusual about her wedding food. They opted for a buffet at the evening reception, but for various long and complicated reasons, quite a few guests, and the bride herself, ended up hanging round their house before the ceremony, looking hungry. I offered to cook, and was then faced with the slightly daunting prospect of trying to feed a dozen people very quickly, with few ingredients, in a tiny kitchen, with no idea what they liked... Worse still, I was prevented from spilling anything down bridesmaids dresses, and banned from using any chilli or garlic (my staple ingredients!) for fear of foul breath making the groom run a mile before the ceremony was completed.
I did want the meal to be vaguely unusual and memorable though, and it also had to be varied to cater for all tastes. Eventually I decided on quite a haphazard spread. One very rich red meat dish to add luxury, an 'interesting' chicken dish for the less adventurous, a token vegetarian dish and a simple but filling salad. With my husband employed as commis chef ('Commis' is a technical term, short fot 'commiserations darling, you are the skivvy'), and another friend volunteered at short notice to be the Chef de Partie in charge of dessert, we managed to create the following five dishes in under two hours. I was quite proud of myself.
All quantities in the following are negotiable - basically add to taste, and multiply by the number of people catering for. Eventually, it will just 'look right'.
Dead Bambi Avec Chocolat
A few decent sized venison steaks, roughly cubed
A bar of strong black chocolate
Roughly half a bottle of full-bodied red wine (we used South African Pinotage because we like it)
Half a dozen small shallots, finely sliced
Slog of Olive oil
Several cloves of garlic if the bride doesn't object!
Large pinch of rosemary.
Freshly ground black pepper to season.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown off the meat and sweat the shallots with the garlic.
After a few minutes, add the wine and rosemary, and heat through.
When the pan is simmering, grate in the chocolate and stir through until it has all melted.
Simmer for a further 20-30 minutes until the meat is gorgeously tender.
Mojito Chicken Stirfry
Oil for stir frying
Chicken fillets, sliced into strips
Green pepper(s) cut into thin strips
1 large white onion, roughly chopped.
Very large slog of rum (I prefer dark, but any sort works!)
2-3 Tbsp dark brown sugar
Several large handfuls of fresh mint, ripped up
Freshly squeezed lime juice.
First, get a large frying pan/Wok very hot until the oil is sizzling. Flash fry the chicken, onion and peppers until the chicken strips are cooked through and the pepper has blistered. Splash in the rum, (it may actually flambe dramatically if you get it right! This is great fun, looks highly professional, but can be dangerous in small kitchens!). The alcohol will boil off, leaving the flavour in the chicken. Turn down the heat in the pan and stir thoroughly.
When the pan has cooled, stir in the sugar, mint and lime juice. The sugar should thicken the lime and other juices, but shouldn't burn.
Serve immediately, spooning left over juices over the chicken.
Creamy Butternut Squish
One large, obscene butternut squash
(I've always found the bigger they are, the more obscene they look, and the worse they look, the more fun they are to chop up violently. Not that I have issues or anything)
Creamy soft cheese, or mascapone.
Rosemary (preferably fresh sprigs)
Freshly ground black pepper.
Large handful of halved walnuts
This really is more of a squish than a squash.
First, peel and chop the squash into large chunks. Drizzle in oil, sprinkle with rosemary and roast in the oven until soft and slightly caramelised. Stir in the walnuts and continue roasting for a further ten minutes. Finally, stir in the soft cheese and season liberally with black pepper. The squash should slightly disintergrate. Return the oven for a few more minutes to heat the cheese, then serve hot and gooey.
Bel's Famous Potato Salad
Large collection of chopped boiled potatoes, cooled.
Very large calorific quantity of mayonnaise
A few teaspoons of mint sauce (or, fresh mint and a splash of vinegar)
A few spring onions very finely chopped.
This was discovered entirely by accident, when I couldn't decide whether to do minted potatoes or a mayo-rich salad. It is dead easy. Basically bung everything in a bowl and stir.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
(with many thanks to Hilary Parker for this, who stepped in miraculously as a highly skilled Chef de Party. She excels in the sticky toffee department and this recipe seems to turn out perfectly everytime with little obvious difficulty)
Most recipes seem to have dates in – however I use sultanas instead because they’re easier to find & I like them! And it still tastes yummy. This recipe happily fills an 8 inch-ish (20cm) square cake tin. I find this divides up into 9 decent portions, more if you’re not that hungry!
I’ve also made individual puddings in 4 inch (10cm) sized ramekins, these make about 6 largeish puddings.
2oz (55g) butter
6oz (170g) demerara sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp golden syrup
7oz (200g) self-raising flour
7oz (200g) sultanas
10fl oz (290ml) boiling water
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the sauce:
4fl oz (110ml) double cream
2oz (55g) butter, diced
2oz (55g) dark muscavado sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp golden syrup
1. Butter the tin or ramekins and dust with flour and preheat oven 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. Using a food processor cream the butter and sugar together.
Slowly add the golden syrup, treacle and eggs. Continue mixing until the mixture looks smooth, then turn down to a slow speed and add the flour. Mix until everything is well combined.
3. Add the boiling water to the dates and tip into a blender. Secure the lid firmly and blend to a purée.
4. Add the bicarbonate of soda and vanilla.
5. Pour this into the batter while it is still hot and stir well.
6. Pour into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is just firm to the touch.
7. Make the sauce: simply place all the ingredients in a pan, bring to the boil, stirring a few times and then remove from the heat. Put to one side until ready to use.
(This keeps ok for a day or two in the fridge if you make too much – just gently reheat on the stove.)
8. Serve the pudding in bowls and coat with the toffee sauce. I like it with vanilla ice cream, but cream or custard go equally well!
The above five dishes easily fed ten people with leftovers (saved in the fridge for the groom and best man as an unidentified surprise!). Whereas I don't always recommend cooking unfamiliar dishes in strange surrounding within rather stressful circumstances, I can vouch for the fact that everyone seemed to enjoy it, and the wedding afterwards was absolutely beautiful. And neither the bride or I popped out of a dresses either!