Most couples have a general idea of what they want in terms of a cake design (most, not all!) and at consultations a lot of times I’m told right off the bat “the florist said they’ll just stick some flowers on the cake”.
First, no florist has permission to touch my cake. I completely respect my fellow vendors and I know they work their butt off, but I’d never presume to rearrange their flowers, they have no business willy nilly sticking stems and leaves onto my creations. Florists do not have a food handler’s permit or a SafeServ certification. In short, they are not licensed or qualified to handle food.
But after a particularly bad experience I had very recently, I feel I need to start vocalizing some bigger picture things.
If the cake is supposed to have fresh flowers on it, I get them when I deliver the cake. Never once in the 3 years of making wedding cakes have I seen these flowers given any special treatment like they will be going on a food product – I’ve been handed stems picked up off the floor, pulled out of the trunks of filthy cars, or wrapped in ratty mold-smelling old newspaper. These stems are always untreated, meaning they still have thorns, dead petals, extra foliage, roots, dirt, debris, and so forth on them. And in a very recent cake experience, they were crammed in a box, wilted to hell, and bug infested. When I said to the florist, “What the hell? I can’t use these on a cake!” She said, “why not?” Then grabbed one of the flowers, blew on it in the DIRECTION OF THE CAKE and started laying them out on the cake table. I presume this was her scientific way to remove the little critters scurrying around on the buds.
Horrified, I stopped her and told her I’d take care of it. I took all the flowers meant for the cake to a bathroom sink (which is also completely unsanitary but it was my only option) to try and wash and dry them as best as I could. 2/3rd of those flowers went in the trash and I ended up taking flowers from the centerpieces (and wash them!) to use. I wrapped each stem in non-toxic floral tape so they wouldn’t seep any sap into the cake and I attached each to a toothpick so I could anchor them on the cake. This ringamarole took an hour longer for me to do then it should have. I gladly did it, but it left me wondering: why doesn’t anyone seem to care about how gross these flowers are? Why am I always looked at like I am a loon when I deliver the cake then spend another 40 minutes wrapping stems instead of just jabbing them in and getting on with my day?
Think about it: if a server dropped your french fries on the floor but served them to you anyway, would you still eat them? If you found little bugs crawling in your salad would you still eat it after the waitress blew on it to make the bugs go away? Or… what if you found out that the salad you were eating hasn’t even been washed from the field where it was grown in human waste, sprayed with cancer-causing chemicals in 50% higher doses as what is acceptable to the FDA on a food product, picked by individuals not following food handling practices (because, you know, they aren’t handling food), crammed in a filthy box and shipped straight to the restaurant to be tossed onto a plate? You’d freak out.
And yet – couples are regularly told to use fresh flowers on the cake to save a few bucks. Google it – I got over 2 million articles.
And if the reality of the above isn’t enough to gross you out, some of the most popular wedding flowers staples like calla lilies, hydrangea, carnations, and tulips are toxic and considered poisonous – and this season’s hot flowers like the ranunculus and many species of succulents can cause mouth blisters, vomiting and actually be fatal. To say that these flowers and plants should NEVER come in contact with food is an understatement.
I know what you are thinking: ”Jen, you exaggerate! My Florist would never suggest a toxic flower for my cake!” Yeah they do. ALL. THE. TIME. And what’s worse, I’ve also seen several cake sketches made by my competitors that have these toxic flowers all over them. I feel like I’m being underhanded pointing out to potential clients that if they choose to go with the other baker, make sure they don’t cover the cake with something that can give their guests diarrhea, but I can’t help it.
So what am I suggesting you do? Well, if you really want fresh flowers on your cake, you should at least insist that they are organic. That takes care of the pesticide issue, but contrary to what you may think, that doesn’t mean the flowers are food safe. Unless you get edible flowers grown specifically to be eaten, organic flowers are still considered a decoration, not food. It still means different growing conditions from what farmers would use if they were growing spinach, and different government guidelines on how they are handled. It means unsanitary field workers, unsanitary shipping and unsanitary packaging. And have you seen the cost of organic flowers???
The art of making sugar flowers is not something that every baker or cake artist attempts to learn or has a knack for, but what we make is food safe. No bugs. No poop. No dirt from the field. No cancer-causing chemicals. Depending on the flower, they aren’t much more costly then getting real flowers and they are wonderful keepsakes. They are also gorgeous.
Just wanted people to know.
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UPDATE #1: I got an email from one of my past brides wanting to know if the story above was her cake. I didn’t write this post to “out” any vendor – simply to draw attention to how flowers are actually handled behind the scenes based on my experience. One of the things that sets me apart from other bakers and bakeries is that I have extremely high quality standards. When I say I use high quality, name brand ingredients, and have an extremely high attention to detail, I mean it and live it. I really, really do. I know many caterers and other bakers that advertise that they do, but have seen them use the cheapest ingredients they can get their hands on and call it “gourmet”.
I would never, ever, ever ever ever permit the use of anything on one of my cakes that I would not eat myself. Ever. If you were one of my past brides and I just freaked you out, I assure you I took just as much care making sure your flowers were as clean and as food safe as I could before using them.