On Insects and Cake

I’ve told the story of how my first 4-H entomology project was what convinced me that I wanted to become an entomologist, but I’ve never told you about the other projects I did.  I joined 4-H in 4th grade, after I quit Girl Scouts to escape the pink and frilly crafty things I didn’t want to do.  I eagerly pored over the project list that first year, and what did I sign up for?  Sewing.  Cake decorating.  Over my decade as 4-Her, I made dolls, painted ceramics, sewed countless clothing items, and made hundreds of cakes.  (I also learned how to use my SLR camera and collected insects, but that’s not important to this story.)  However, even though I did all these girlie crafty things, I always did them my way.  I made  functional clothes that I could wear to softball practice.  My dolls were hand carved kachina dolls and definitely did not involve scary fake hair.  And my cakes were non-traditional designs that fit my personal style perfectly.

But the 4-H cake decorating judge at the county fair hated my cakes.  They were well made and sometimes she had to give me the top prize because I did good work, but she made no secret of the fact that she didn’t think that making insect cakes was appropriate.  She cringed a little every time she came across a photo of an insect cake in my record book for the year.  One year I learned how to make flowers of many different types and she said that my cakes were beautiful that year, “for once,” as she plopped the winning ribbon on my cake.  At one point, and this was after I fell deeply in love with entomology and had incorporated insects into several of the wedding cakes I had created, she actually took me aside and told me this: “I am giving you first place, but I have to tell you: you really shouldn’t make insect cakes.  No one wants to be reminded of disgusting little insects while they’re eating cake.”

The judge didn’t seem to care that I wanted to be reminded of insects when I ate cake, so I took this as a personal affront.  She didn’t just hate my cakes: she hated everything that I loved!  I was so mad that the next year I brought another insect cake just to spite her, this time covered with sculpted fondant dragonflies and water lilies.  And when I replaced her as the cake judge in several counties in college…  Well, let’s just say I had a very different anything-goes approach to what constituted an “appropriate” cake design!  If it was well constructed, it got high marks, simple as that.  I never discouraged a child from making a cake that he or she loved.  I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong.

When I started grad school, I found a group of people who actually appreciated insect-themed cakes: entomologists!  Entomologists have absolutely no problem eating an insect shaped cake and will gleefully request part of the thorax or a saltitorial hind leg.  Life like?  No problem!  After years of discouragement by an insect-hating cake decorating judge, I’ll admit: I was thrilled to occasionally put that decade of cake decorating training to good use making insect cakes.  SO.  FUN!

However, entomologists aren’t the only people who are excited about insects on cake these days!  As I was looking for ideas for my own wedding cake (which I did not make, though I did make my sister’s!), I came across several gorgeous insect cakes.  For example, this cake is offered as a wedding cake design by the Village TeaRoom in New Poltz, NY:

How adorable is that?  The honeycomb design is filled with apricot jam and those bees are chocolate truffles with slivered almond wings.  Yum!  Or how about this cake, chosen by a couple being married at Penn State:

Ladybug cake

Ladybug cake. Image by redheaded ninja from http://redheadedninja.com/weddings/rachel-nathan/

Ladybugs!  An aggregation of ladybugs no less!  I think this cake is stunning, and it’s covered in bugs.

If you have a moment, you should check out this cake on Cake Coquette’s Flickr stream.  It is the sort of thing I always liked to do – combining girlie flowery and leafy stuff with insects – and the cake features a whole menagerie of vermin (bugs, mice, snails, ants, worms) while remaining wholly beautiful.  Then there’s this:

Beetle cake

Beetle cake. Image from http://www.edibleblog.com/wild-animals-cakes/. There are some other AMAZING wild animal cakes if you follow that link, including two scorpions.

Wow!  Boy would the cake judge have hated that…

Even the mighty Martha Stewart has promoted insect themed cake designs!  This cake was on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings magazine while I was planning my wedding:

People went nuts over this cake!  While it was still on the Martha Stewart Weddings site, it got more comments than I ever would have imagined, people raving about how beautiful and unique the cake was.  Or at least it was unique before thousands of brides HAD TO HAVE the butterfly cake!  People selling the little plastic butterflies on Etsy had backorders a mile long thanks to this cover.  And it spawned several knock offs, including a less ostentatious design on the Martha Stewart Weddings site now:

Martha's new butterfly cake

Martha's new butterfly cake. Image from http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/227157/extreme-cakeover.

And this cake has been popular too!  There are countless examples of variations on the theme, such as this interpretation on Weddingbee:

Martha inspired butterfly cake

Martha inspired butterfly cake. Image from http://gallery.weddingbee.com/photo/our-wedding-cake-4

Beautiful!  Simple, elegant, understated, yet with a bold dash of color.

Honestly, I’ve always been bitter about that cake judge kicking me to the curb every year for designing cakes that worked for me.  But I feel vindicated for sticking with it now!  Tons of people want insect themed cakes these days.  BRIDES want insect themed cakes!  If thousands of brides want insects on their cakes, you know that people really aren’t being reminded of disgusting insects when they eat an insect themed cake, which is just what I’ve suspected all along.


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