What is the essence of the book?
Say the word dessert and most people will imagine a sweet treat served at the conclusion a meal. But as Jeri Quinzio reveals the ancestors of the modern dessert take many forms and the way they were presented and served were as diverse as the types of dessert available. The book traces the development of this most delectable of courses from the sweetmeats of the middle ages to the inventive creations of todays chefs and confectioners.
About the author
Jeri Quinzio is a freelance writer specialising in food history. She appears to have a particular penchant for the sweeter things in life having previously written an earlier book entitled Pudding as well as Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, which won the 2010 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Culinary History award.
Who will like it?
If you have a copy of Regula Ysewijn’s Pride and Pudding then this would make a great companion book. I don’t think it’s essential to have a sweet tooth but it would probably help although an interest in food history is a given.
Who won’t like it?
Although there are a few recipes in this book they serve to illustrate rather than instruct. If you want a more practical approach to historical desserts buy the book mentioned above.
What do I like about the book?
This isn’t strictly speaking a chronological history of the dessert. Quite cleverly it has been organised by the type of dessert rather than the period. So from sugary confections like caraway comfits (which I was delighted to learn would go on to inspire paper confetti thrown at weddings*) the following chapter traces the history of dairy based desserts like flummeries (surely these should be reinstated at the dinner table if nothing else because of the delightful way ‘flummery’ trips off the tongue?). There are lots of little anecdotes which explain how desserts have influenced customs or terms like ‘junket’. A junket was originally a sweetened, flavoured curd but would eventually be used to describe a merry feast in the 16th century. In the US by the 19th century it meant a frivolous trip taken by an official at the expense of the tax payer.
Is there anything I’m not so keen on?
As soon as you start reading this book it is apparent just how large the topic of ‘dessert’ is. Quinzio has covered a lot in 239 pages (excluding the notes and index) and at times it feels like she is just skimming the surface. Each chapter could have been a book in its own right. I could happily have read much more on each topic but this statement itself is a testament to the author’s skill in conveying the information in an engaging way.
Would I cook from it?
Not directly but it certainly has inspired me to seek out recipes for particular desserts.
Where can you buy it?
* Sugar coated nuts and seeds were tossed at weddings and at carnival time. These would be superseded by plaster comfits which would coat clothes with dust as they exploded on impact. Eventually, plaster confetti gave way to the paper kind although this too has fallen out of favour for environmental reasons.