Who would save a piece of cake for 57 years?
Donna and Dave Hanson of Minnetonka, and probably no one else in the world.
Not only do they still have part of the top layer of the five-tier cake from their 1961 wedding (in the freezer, next to the Cool Whip), but they’ve eaten some every year, starting with wedges back in the early ’60s, then just a little taste.
What they’re left with now is a few tablespoons of still-bright white icing, speckled with crumbs, wrapped in aluminum foil and sealed in a vintage Tupperware cube labeled “Wedding Cake 1961.”
The long, strange tradition began with the custom of saving the top of a wedding cake to be eaten on a couple’s first anniversary. In addition to the top layer, the Hansons saved lots of leftover vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting after their 150 guests left the reception.
“The apartment we lived in, in south Minneapolis, had a little balcony porch. So we could just leave the food out there. It stayed nice and cool. And when we would have people over, I suppose we would share the cake with them. But we kept the top piece in the freezer,” says Donna, noting that the plan was to dive into it on their anniversary, Nov. 18, 1962.
The Hansons dined out that evening (Dave gave Donna roses and an orchid corsage) and thawed the cake for dessert.
“It was really just a ceremonial piece. It wasn’t with ice cream or anything. We just sliced off a piece to remember the day,” says Donna. Dave says the cake was delicious, despite having already lasted longer than Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage.
Somewhere in those first years, an idea began to take hold: keeping the cake as a reminder of how much they mean to each other.
“It just developed: ‘Should we have a piece again this year? OK.’ All of a sudden, you’ve been doing it quite a while and you have to do it,” says Dave.
“We said, ‘We’ll make it last until our 25th.’ And it lasted.
“So we started doling out less and less and, then, we said, ‘Our 50th.’ It’s a race. Who is going to win: the cake or us?” jokes Donna.
You don’t have to spend much time around the Hansons to figure out the answer to that question.
The couple, who have two children, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter (whose first birthday they celebrated this month), still crack each other up.
“We’ve had a good marriage,” says Dave, adding, “I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument.”
“We’ve had disagreements, but not arguments where we were mad for any length of time,” says Donna. “We talk and we work it out. Compromise and caring for each other, I think, have a lot to do with it — and faith.”
Over the years, a set of loose rules developed around eating the cake: The Hansons do it by themselves (no one else has eaten any of the top layer). They try for their anniversary, but they’re OK with a few days early or late, if need be. And, if possible, one of their kids or a neighbor snaps a photo.
So what’s in this cake, a cake that dates to the JFK administration? A cake that Donna insists “tastes pretty darn good for all these years. The frosting is still kind of soft and it still tastes just like the cake tasted at first.”
Butter, flour, sugar. The usual.
Which is why its longevity is a huge surprise to Gary Arvidson, former owner of the now-defunct Scandia Bakery, which baked for Minneapolis’ Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, where the Hansons were married.
Arvidson doesn’t recommend saving a cake for 57 years. He doesn’t even recommend saving it for one year.
“It’s a tradition, but when people used to talk about those anniversary cakes, I would say, ‘We’ll make you a new cake. I don’t want you to eat that thing that’s been in the freezer all year,’ ” says Arvidson, adding, “Although I guess there’s nothing in there that will kill them.”
The baker doesn’t remember the Hanson cake specifically, but he’s guessing it was a blotkake, or “wet cake,” a Norwegian pastry whose extreme moistness would give it a fighting chance in the Frigidaire for the better part of six decades.
Frozen in time
The Hansons have had good luck with freezers, even during the occasional power outage. After residing in two apartments in the early years of their marriage, they’ve lived in their current home for 55 years, 35 of them with the same fridge.
They have not, however, always had great luck with cakes.
When Donna picked up a sheet cake on the day of their 50th anniversary party, it was emblazoned with the message, “Happy 50th, Donna and Bill.” The decorator was gone, so the “Bill” had to be scraped off and replaced with the correct husband.
Donna says it’s hard to put her finger on why she and Bill — er, Dave — still find it meaningful to dig into the dwindling cake every November, but nostalgia has something to do with it.
“I’d say it is sentimental. Sometimes, eating it does remind you of the day,” she says.
Which is probably as good an answer as any to the question of why you’d save a wedding cake for 57 years: Because it reminds you of beginnings.
Because it’s something for just the two of you.
Because you want to make it last.