My niece Claire is getting married soon, and, to honor her attendants, I recently hosted a girls-only luncheon at my home in Baton Rouge. While the hors d’oeuvres were making their way around the room, I started mixing a Champagne cocktail for the only unmarried attendant. A petite thing, she was wearing the high, spiky heels she planned to wear for the wedding and was doing a good job balancing in them. Even so, I decided not to tell her the old wives tale that says if a single bridesmaid trips on the way to the altar, she will forever remain single.
As soon as we were seated for our salads, I gave a little bridesmaid history, explaining that the ancient Romans were adamant that evil spirits did everything they could to sabotage weddings. To confuse the devil, groomsmen dressed exactly like the groom and bridesmaids dressed exactly like the bride. The ruse must have worked because I have yet to find research pointing to a bride, groom or any attendant becoming possessed at a Roman wedding altar.
It was these same superstitious Romans who encouraged bridegrooms to break the entire wedding cake over their brides’ heads and to let guests scramble for the crumbs that fell to the floor. This “highly sanitary” custom supposedly brought good fortune.
As they dug in to their entrees of shrimp over rice noodles, the assembled bridesmaids all agreed that taking part in a Roman wedding was probably less hazardous than serving in one in early England. There, as I told them, an Anglo-Saxon bride often had to walk through uninhabited forests to get to her groom in the next village. One danger these young maidens faced came from spurned suitors, who might try a last-minute attempt to steal her. (Claire, who has broken more than her share of hearts, actually gulped at that one.) Also, in this high time of the dowry, there always was the chance the bride could be robbed. English brides were, therefore, escorted to their weddings by female friends, young women who literally served as bodyguards.
After Claire gave gifts to her attendants, the maid of honor said her goodbyes and joked that she was going home to brush up on her karate moves. The next to leave was the one single bridesmaid, who did an excellent job descending my brick steps in those stratospheric shoes.
The wedding is in a few days, and I’m especially anxious to see the groom’s cake, which will be chocolate and shaped like a duck. Claire’s will be four white tiers with butter pecan and raspberry cream cheese fillings. I’m in charge of slicing her cake, and I’m going to do my best to keep the groom from crumbling any of it on her hair.
Cynthia LeJeune Nobles is editor of “The Southern Table” cookbook series at LSU Press and author of “The Delta Queen Cookbook.” You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.