Most people enjoy eating sweets, especially around this time of year. Michael Krondl in Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert shows how sweets have been a part of our diet since ancient times.
Krondl portrays six countries or regions in this narrative. They include India, the Middle East, Italy, France, Austria/Vienna and the United States. Desserts first started out as a treat for the wealthy but have evolved for the masses. A sweet can be a concoction of sugar, eggs, and milk; a fruit pie; a layered cake; or any other confection that completes a meal.
Not surprisingly, desserts have developed along with the cultivation and use of sugar around the world. Ancient civilizations offered confections to their gods seeking favor. These most likely were of bread-like consistency made with honey and dates.
Other religious traditions continue to incorporate sweets into their observances. Hindus offer them to their gods. Muslims make them part of Ramadan feasting. For Christians, no Christmas or Easter would be complete without sweets. Weddings and other special occasions also require something sweet.
Some desserts become associated with a particular region. Baklava is claimed by Turkey, although other countries make it as well. Austria is known for its tortes.
European aristocracy has long been known for lavish meals and sumptuous desserts. Louis XIV and Catherine de Medici are among those who set elaborate tables.
The United States expanded on the popularity of puddings in England and evolved them into custard pies. One American invention is the pecan pie, which uses the nuts that were readily available to early settlers.
With the advent of the Industrial age, people had less time for prolonged meals.
Pastry chefs had to study and work with pastries for years before they could work on their own. Pastry chefs became entrepreneurs by opening their own shops that sold confections. Pastry shops then began to cater to women at tea time when drink and a sweet kept hunger at bay between meals. These shops evolved into restaurants.
Another evolutionary process: Chocolate. Though common in the confections of today, it started out as a hot drink. Milton Hershey and Walter Baker are among those who figured out ways to turn chocolate into a variety of edible treats.
Cookbooks in the United States were published with recipes to entice people to bake desserts. The United States into the 20th century made desserts easy with cake mixes and kitchen gadgets. Some companies fostered demand for their products by supplying recipes for them using oatmeal or peanut butter.
Industrialization also saw the rise of commercially baked products saving consumers time and effort in the baking of desserts. Twenty-first century trends in dessert include a growing demand for cupcakes and macaroons.
As technology and tastes change, new flavors will shape the sweets of tomorrow. One thing is certain: the desire for something sweet and tasty will not lessen with the child in everyone demanding them.
I enjoyed reading about the history of desserts. Of course, I spent my reading time wishing for a piece of chocolate cake or something containing whipped cream! For a interesting and sweet read, this is a good book to get those taste buds flowing!
About the Author
Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.