Wedding Guide: Food/reception

“Before the 1880s, a couple was required by law to have a morning ceremony.”

The foregoing factoid was uncovered on a wedding-history page linked from an investors’ Web site, www.fortunecity.com. Really, “fortune” is the operative word here — as in, what most of today’s ceremonies cost. And it’s usually not a “small” fortune, either.

This scrap of wedding history also points up the cavernous gulf between what middle-class receptions once were, compared to the obscenely expensive whirlwinds of all-night-long one-upmanship that they’ve become. Unless her last name was “Windsor,” a bride, up till the middle of the 20th century, typically held a morning or afternoon reception at her parents’ home. Refreshments might end at nuts, mints and a glass of wine. OK, maybe a slice of cake.

We’re not necessarily advocating that route for today’s bride — especially since hosting a party at one’s parents’ home today often means having to choose between the abode of mother-and-stepfather, say, or father-and-current-girlfriend … you get the picture. But really, opting for potluck over a high-end caterer, or being brave enough not to bleed the budget on the four-star reception hall du jour, could be downright radical. After all, retro is always cool.

There’s no amount of family tension Aunt Gert’s macaroni-and-cheese won’t fix

One wedding I attended was catered by a famous local resort, and the resulting lavish spread was exactly what you’d expect. Except that there, amid the precious canapes and carved-fruit manifestoes, sat a plate of pluckily unglamorous cookie-like things decked out only in powdered sugar. The bride called them Peanut Butter Balls — a family recipe she’d often made with her grandmother and late great-grandmother. Delicious, the eyeball-sized confections also managed to make a quiet, sticky stand against all the pomp. Those on a sub-four-star-resort budget might even consider an all-potluck reception — one heavy on heirloom (or otherwise meaningful) recipes, of course. If you’re having a home reception, it’s a natural fit.

Vegetarian bridesmaid Cindy Burda confronts the unthinkable
Vegetarian bridesmaid Cindy Burda confronts the unthinkable

What to do about vegetarians

One former bridesmaid we know (see photo) found herself the only vegetarian at her sister’s reception, where the star attraction was the always-popular hog barbecued on-site. So be kind — let your herbivorous loved ones eat quiche, at least. Some caterers also offer the ingenious solution of a pasta bar, where guests can select their sauces (Alfredo or marinara being naturally meat-free options), their toppings and even their preferred incarnation of noodle. Choose an Asian or Indian restaurant to cater your reception and vegetarian options will be plentiful. One Xpress staffer, a lifelong vegetarian, got even more creative: She hired the likewise-vegetarian Hare Krishnas to cater her reception.

Buttercream frosting: so old it’s new again

A couple seasons ago, Krispy Kreme wedding cakes — sculpted piles of doughnuts held together by cascading ribbons and surplus glaze — were all the rage, especially, for some weird reason, among wealthy Manhattanites. But you can have a quirky cake without resorting to day-old kitsch. According to Planning a Wedding to Remember author Beverly Clark, booze-flavored frosting is hot now (Clark prefers such “delicate, unusual infusions” as champagne, Grand Marnier and Kahlua). Theme cakes (the author mentions Dr. Seuss and Alice in Wonderland) are big, as are miniature, individual cakes in lieu of the traditional ivory-tower confection. (I think those are called cupcakes.) Clark also promotes cakes festooned with real flowers — not a new idea, but always a fresh one.

No extra charge for ghostly guests

So your family’s too dysfunctional to host a home reception? Well, sumptuous historic landmarks make splendid party halls. Here in Western North Carolina, we’re blessed with a surfeit of these gracious old behemoths — Grove Park Inn, Richmond Hill Inn, Highland Lake Inn (Flat Rock), Biltmore Estate and Balsam Mountain Inn (near Waynesville) are among the area’s oldest, finest and most popular reception sites. They don’t come cheap, though. If you’re determined to go the pre-Depression route, may we suggest the circa-1920s Homewood, a gorgeous stone manor situated on the site of the old Highland Hospital, in Montford. Established as an events hall three years go, Homewood is close-by, thoroughly charming and not atrociously expensive (especially on weekdays in the off-season, or so we hear). Nina Simone once took piano lessons there. Zelda Fitzgerald perished in a fire on the same acreage. It’s hard to compete with history like that.

No sand in your tulle

Sure, beach weddings are pretty, but they’ve been done to death. In Western North Carolina we have public gardens, scenic cliffs, mountain balds and laurel hells, parkways and skyways, trailheads and foothills, trickling streams and roaring rivers — an outdoor-reception idea to suit every fantasy and idiosyncrasy. Gathering your guests beside a waterfall is a nice scenic option — and, unlike the ocean, you’ve got hundreds to choose from, each with its own character. Of course, not every waterfall is (physically or legally) accessible for ceremonies. One “official” outdoor wedding site we like is rustic Claxton Farm, in Fletcher.

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