I often get queries when I give menus from the seventeenth century which seem impossibly exhaustive in the first place, and then appear to be followed by another ‘banquet.’ Originally the word ‘banquet’ referred specifically to the dishes served at the end of a feast (which was an entertainment as much as a meal.) The banquet was often taken in a separate room – or sometimes even a ‘banquetting house’ set in the grounds of an aristocratic estate – while the servants cleared the tables in the main feasting hall. In medieval times this consisted of sweetened wine and wafers, but as time went on more and more elaborate sweetmeats and fruits were included.
Early in the seventeenth century a final ‘course’ of predominantly sweet dishes became called the ‘dessert’. The word is derived from the French desservir, meaning to de-serve, that is, to clear the dishes from the table. The notion of ‘dessert’ as a separate course was seen initially by some in England as a French affectation which was bad for the health. Eventually however, popular appeal over-rode nationalism and medical opinion, and ‘dessert’ became an established and essential part of the meal, confectionary became a new career, and dentistry was no doubt also given a boost.
For the Recipe for the Day I give you the entry for this day, January 3, from 365 desserts; a dessert for every day in the year by Harriet Schuyler Nelson (Philadelphia, 1900)
Thicken 1 pint of milk, in which is dissolved ¾ cup of sugar, with 2 tablespoonfuls of cornstarch. Cook thoroughly in a vessel set into boiling water. When cooked and boiling hot, beat this into the whites of 3 eggs beaten stiff. After standing a few minutes add 1 cup of grated cocoanut. Flavor with vanilla and turn into a mould with grated cocoanut on top. Serve with cream sweetened and flavored with wine.
Quotation for the Day.
The dessert, properly prepared, contributes equally to health and comfort; but 'got up' as confectionary too often is, it is not only distasteful to a correct palate, but is deleterious and often actually poisonous.
The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker (1864)