In one million years, when curious archaeologists start digging into the Earth to laugh at the adorable ways people used to live, I wonder what they’ll find. Mounds of discarded KeepCups? Worn-out North Face jackets? Those little plastic tops we keep on sea salt sprays to stop them leaking everywhere? Perhaps they’ll even be disappointed by all of this, because what they were really looking for was a long-abandoned power source they’d only recently discovered they urgently needed (the battery in the PS5).
But I do wonder, how many slices of frozen cake will they find?
I know that cake is not very robust, even when frozen, so it’s unlikely that future scientists will be able to find any. But that’s besides the point. On Wednesday, a piece of 40-year-old frozen cake was auctioned off. The reason people wanted this frozen cake is because it came from one of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding cakes in 1981. (They had 23 wedding cakes, which seems excessive to me, but truthfully I’ve never seen the Queen eat before.)
It seems that some of the cake was sent to Clarence House for the royal staff to eat and that’s where Moyra Smith, an employee of the Queen Mother (Charles’s granny), got a piece, covered it in cling wrap and put it in her freezer. Now, someone has bought the cake piece for £1,850 (AU$3,483), several times over its estimated price of £300-500.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this cake. Did Moyra save it because she thought it would be valuable one day? (“The cake lasted much longer than the marriage!” you might say if you were nasty, which I am not.) Did she just put it in the freezer because she didn’t feel particularly hungry that day, but felt guilty leaving a piece of cake with the royal coat of arms to go sweaty on the kitchen counter? Over the years, was Moyra ever tempted to take one of those tiny forks and have a tiny taste?
The cake itself looks a bit like a soggy tea towel wrapped around dried orange peel and sultanas, so I wouldn’t have been tempted. (The auction house has already sternly warned “we advise against eating it”.) Besides, eating marzipan has always felt akin to chewing on old curtains to me, so my opinion is probably irrelevant.
I have done enough rotations on this planet to know that freezing pieces of wedding cake isn’t unusual. I know my family kept a hunk of my communion cake in the freezer for ages, but it was an ice-cream cake so that wasn’t very notable. I think we probably threw it out when we didn’t have room for nuggets and Neapolitan anymore.
But when you freeze a piece of important-occasion cake: then what happens? When the mood takes you, do you just wander into the kitchen, take the slice out of the freezer and stare at its cracked icing until your hand gets too cold? Do you take it out on the anniversary of the occasion, light some candles, put on Joni Mitchell’s Blue and then stare at it for a while? Do you ever thaw it and eat it? Is this a provincial thing to ask?
I do understand, though, why people feel compelled to freeze cake without really thinking about why they do it.
This year in the last week of May I released my first book, which was a time of great excitement and feeling like I needed to puke every 20 minutes. The book launch was cancelled on the day of the event (something about an airborne plague?) as so many others have been. My publisher gave me a giant box of mini cupcakes that were meant for the launch party, chocolate and vanilla bulbs with little sugary stamps of my book’s cover on the top.
After crying for four to six hours, only pausing to smash mini cupcakes into my mouth, I realised that I needed to do something with the rest of them. We were in a hard lockdown, so I couldn’t exactly walk around the neighbourhood handing them out like some sort of Pied Piper of germs. Throwing them out felt as though I was throwing out my dreams; throwing out any sort of cake has always been fairly antithetical to my values. So I decided to freeze some. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did that.
Right now, in my freezer, is a small blue Tupperware container of rock-hard cupcakes with tiny iced book covers on them. I have no idea when I’ll look at them or what I’ll do with them. They function as a sort of proof of life – this thing did happen and don’t let your brain trick you into thinking otherwise. I hope the archeologists enjoy them.