Today marks my sixteenth day in the wonderful country of Japan, and to date the most unexpected experience has been my participation in a multinational team of wedding cake bakers assembled to prepare the cakes for a wedding held on January 11, 2016. Two members of the ARI community were married in the beautiful chapel and held the reception in Koinonia Hall with over one hundred guests in attendance. The week leading up to the wedding of Vero and Kaori was full of cleaning, moving furniture, decorating, and many other wedding related tasks. Everyone in the ARI community helped in the preparations. As visiting members of the community, all of us St. Olaf visitors contributed our time and talents to help Vero and Kaori prepare for their wedding. I found my gift to give the soon-to-be newlyweds laid in sugar, flour, and lots of shredded carrots.
Kathy, the director of admissions at ARI, was in charge of overseeing the cake preparations with few directions from the bride. Kaori left most of the major decisions to be made by the bakers; she simply asked for a non-tiered cake said her favorite flavor was rum raisin. She also wished for as many of the ingredients to come from ARI as possible. Her final request regarding the cakes related to ARI’s commitment to locally sourced food and resources. Weddings aside, over 90% of food consumed at ARI is produced onsite and Kaori wished to remain as close to this figure as possible regarding the creation of her cakes. Kathy is an expert organizer, so she recruited several St. Olaf visitors as well as ARI staff to help with the baking of the cakes. The initial planning meeting was comprised of both St. Olaf professors, Kathy, a German volunteer, Lucas, and myself. Our diverse group of bakers was tasked with deciding types of cakes, decoration style, and number of cakes to be baked. By the end of a two-hour meeting, we reached consensus on six beautiful cakes to be made for Vero and Kaori’s nuptials. The next day, our baking team expanded to include Anna, B, and Hikari who proved to be instrumental in the success of all six cakes. The menu for dessert was as follows:
Rum Raisin Cake baked by Lucas and B
Yuzu and Ginger Cake baked by Professor Paul Jackson and friends
Carrot Cake baked by B and I
Kiwi Jam Filled Cake baked by Anna, Lucas, and Kathy
Russian Twist Cake baked by Manuel and Hikari
Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake baked by Professor Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak
Many of the cakes featured ARI ingredients and succeeded in being beautiful, delicious, and locally sourced. All of the eggs came from the henhouses and we baked with ARI specialties. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus which ripens in the winter, so Paul’s cake featured yuzu glaze, curd, and candied pieces of peel. The bright flavor of yuzu fruit paired nicely with the spicy flavor of ginger. The kiwi jam was also created from fruits grown on the property and made a lovely filling for a white cake with buttercream frosting. My carrot cake used up many of the carrots in the kitchen storage unit, so it made use of a popular ARI vegetable. While Paul created his cake from a combination of many recipes, the recipe for cake I worked on is a meaningful one for my family. My parents had a carrot wedding cake so I always associate weddings with carrot cake. When Kathy suggested a carrot cake, I jumped at the opportunity to share this family tradition from across the Pacific Ocean. I did not spend any time choosing a recipe to follow. Instead, I called up my maternal grandmother and asked for her recipe. This recipe is very well known in my family as it is the cake for celebrations and birthdays. My grandmother even sent me a whole cake in the mail for my first birthday away from home. It was such a joy for me to be able to make my grandmother’s special carrot cake with carrots grown on site and harvested by my peers. After many hours in the kitchen, our crew of bakers produced six beautiful and unique cakes for Vero, Kaori, and their guests to enjoy.
The wedding cake baking process showed me how food really is a crucial part of life at ARI and caused me to think further about the ideas of sustainability and the creativity required to use local resources. The close ties of food and life are combined at ARI to form foodlife, which represents the necessity of food to life. I used ARI produce in my six cups of shredded carrots and Paul exercised culinary creative genius in the creation of his wonderful yuzu and ginger infused cake. The kiwi jam was also an ARI twist on a classic jam filled cake. Through focusing on using produce, eggs, and fruit grown at ARI, I was able to connect more fully with the process of baking as I felt the path from field to table was much shorter here in Tochigi Prefecture than back home in the States. I am so blessed to be deepening my learning on the topics of sustainable agriculture and Japanese Environmentalism while participating in wedding preparations. I am please to report a love of baking can lead to unexpected culinary delights and a strengthened connection between the ARI community and myself.