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?
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.
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.
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.