I don’t seem to get through my second chapter. The various drafts of the second chapter which I had to submit some ten days back seem to be staring at me. While various names of sweet and sweet anecdotes dot the footnotes of the chapter, I struggle to find the thread that binds them together and I am back to blogging.
Reason – a book that is close to my soul and will find its way in many references in my dissertation. I take a little pride in the fact I have followed the author’s work and his book The Taste of Conquest is a must read for all those who want to want take a spice trail across three fascinating cities. I had discussed the book sometime ago in this blog.
Michael Krondl’s (2011) latest work Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert again takes you through a fascinating tour across India, Middle East, Italy, France, Vienna, U.S.A. In his words, he begins his leg of journey with India- “where sugar was first refined, to the Middle East where it was enthusiastically adopted in the later years of the first millennium, then to Europe and finally America” (pp13). Krondl discusses in detail the sacredness around sweets in India and takes you back and forth across North, East and Southern India through a chronicle of sweet spread prepared from milk (mainly chhana, khoa. After the Indian trail of Modaka, Laddu, Rosogolla, Sandesh the reader is taken into the workshop of Baklava factory in Istanbul and the genesis of Baklava is traced back to some Arabian desserts. Similar to India, Gods of Ancient Mesopotamia were also offered sweets. Krondl writes, “To feed their appetites, confectioners were attached to temples. They specialised in making sacred cakes, which were consumed in large numbers during religious rituals” (Krondl 2011:85). The dessert tour of Middle East takes you through Baghdad, Iran and finally concludes with a lovely recipe of Qatayif. The third chapter on Italy takes into the enchanting tales of how cultures merge and shape culinary delights. Venice in particular played a strong role in the spice trail and Krondl alludes to the ways in which cinnamon and sugar was used in abundance in Renaissance Italy. The fourth chapter is dedicated to France, followed by Vienna and U.S.A.- each with detailed description of the unfolding of the nation’s obsession with desserts and the ways in which the cultural encounters forced confectioners to embrace techniques, and create new inventions.
The ways in which certain commodities were responsible for labour migration does not go unnoticed by the food historian. As he recounts the tales of introduction of desserts there is an undertone of the history of sugar plantation labour. In his own words, “Sugar was the prime mover of the transatlantic traffic in human beings”. (pp4) The sweetener i.e., sugar which has been responsible for the success of confectioner’s art and artistry is celebrated across the chapters along with the desserts which makes this book an interesting read and an important book in food history. The role of dessert in food history is significant and yet from a biological standpoint it is “frivolous, unnecessary” and this is precisely why Michael points out that “when you talk about dessert you step away from analyzing basic human needs to a conversation about culture” (pp3). The book precisely explores those cross cultural linkages and connections in this mapping of desserts.
Book Review : Krondl,M.2011. Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.