Sweet cravings for dessert existed since the early beginnings of humanity. Now enjoyed by many, affluent society folk were the only ones who could afford such in the past, and “regular” people could afford desserts only on special occasions. Technological advances in sugar production allowed for more widespread distribution of it and more affordable prices for consumers. The increased sugar supply paved the way for people to enjoy desserts worldwide.
Origins of the Dessert
Thought to have originated from the custom of removing the aftertaste of a meal with a sweet taste, desserts leave a mouth sweet-tasting and revitalized. The confection derives its name from the French word desservir, which literally means “to clear the table.” Today there are literally thousands of dessert varieties. Some popular sweet desserts that have been around since ancient times include cakes, pies and ice cream.
The word “cake” comes from the Old Norse word kaka. The Oxford English Dictionary first documented the use of the word “cake” in the 13th century. Ancient cultures consumed a very different type of cake than we do today. The first cakes more closely resembled bread and honey, and nuts and dried fruit flavored them. The ancient Egyptians were the first people to use advanced baking methods. People in Medieval Europe baked fruitcakes and gingerbread as desserts because they preserved well.
Advances in baking technology and the availability of cooking ingredients aided cake development. Round cakes with icing that resemble what we eat today made their way to plates in the mid-17th century. The modern cake with ingredients like white flour and baking powder were first used in the 19th century.
The roots of pie as a dessert originated in the Neolithic Period beginning in 9500 B.C. Known as galettes, these free-form pies contained different grains and honey. Galettes baked over hot coals. Pastry originated as bakers added fruit, nuts and honey to bread dough to serve to the pharaoh (1304-1237 B.C.). Drawings of this practice decorate the tomb walls of King Ramses II. Pie-making techniques and ingredients often changed because of different conditions and ingredients.
The Pilgrim women brought their favorite family pie recipes to America to use as desserts. They used traditional pie fillings and incorporated berries and fruits that the Native Americans used as they adapted to the New World.
Colonial women started the tradition of using round pans for pies. This tradition came about to conserve ingredients. The women used flattened pies and then laid rolled out pastry over the top of the pan and cut off the corners. Pies became a part of American culture in the 1700s as pioneer women served pie as a dessert with every meal. As an evening meal, apple pie became a popular dessert with American children.
Ice cream originated around the 4th century B.C. The Roman emperor Nero (A.D. 37-68) ordered his minions to gather ice to combine with fruit toppings for his dessert. King Tang (A.D. 618-97) of Shang, China, developed an early form of ice cream by combining ice and milk. Traders likely brought ice cream from China back to Europe. Ice cream constantly evolved during history, and soon recipes developed for ices, sherbets, and milk ices to serve to the Italian and French aristocracy.
Ice cream recipes made their way into American history in the 1700s. Several important states people often served ice cream as a dessert. Notable figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Dolly Madison served it to their guests. A London caterer ran an ad in a New York paper in 1774 announcing his intent to sell ice cream in his stores.