National Dessert Day is celebrated on 14 October. Dessert is a course that concludes a meal; oftentimes an evening meal. The course usually consists of sweet foods, such as confections dishes or fruit, and possibly a beverage such as dessert wine or liqueur, but may include coffee, cheeses, nuts, or other savory items. In some parts of the world, such as much of central and western Africa, and most parts of China, there is no tradition of a dessert course to conclude a meal.
The origin of Desserts comes from the custom of feeding Sweets to the gods in ancient Mesopotamia and India and other ancient civilizations. Dried fruit and honey were probably the first sweeteners used in most of the world, but the spread of sugarcane around the world was essential to the development of dessert. Sugarcane was grown and refined in India before 500 BC 26 and was crystallized, making it easy to transport, by 500 CE. Sugar and sugarcane were traded, making sugar available to Macedonia by 300 BCE and China by 600 CE. In South Asia, the Middle East and China, sugar has been a staple of cooking and desserts for over a thousand years. Sugarcane and sugar were little known and rare in Europe until the twelfth century or later, when the Crusades and then colonialization spread its use.
Herodotus mentions that, as opposed to the Greeks, the main Persian meal was simple, but they would eat many desserts afterwards. Europeans began to manufacture sugar in the Middle Ages, and more sweet desserts became available. Even then sugar was so expensive usually only the wealthy could indulge on special occasions. The first apple pie recipe was published in 1381. The earliest documentation of the term cupcake was in “Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats” in 1828 in Eliza Leslie’s Receipts cookbook.
The Industrial Revolution in Europe and later America caused desserts (and food in general) to be mass-produced, processed, preserved, canned, and packaged. Frozen foods, including desserts, became very popular starting in the 1920s when freezing emerged. These processed foods became a large part of diets in many industrialized nations. Many countries have desserts and foods distinctive to their nations or region.
The origin of the word dessert comes from the French “desservir,” a word which here means “to clear the table.” This, of course, referenced the dish that came after the clearing of the main dishes served as part of the meal. The earliest references to the term dessert being used are in the 1600’s and arrived at the same time as the concept of serving a meal in courses, letting each part of the meal be its own experience.
The term “dessert” can apply to many confections, such as biscuits, cakes, cookies, custards, gelatins, ice creams, pastries, pies, puddings, and sweet soups, and tarts. Fruit is also commonly found in dessert courses because of its naturally occurring sweetness. Some cultures sweeten foods that are more commonly savory to create desserts.