Desserts are always a special treat at the end of the meal. Everyone looks forward to something sweet. In 18th Century France, the dessert course was actually a descendant of a court ritual originally from the medieval period, when the king rose at the end of the meal to partake of sugared anise and caraway seeds along with some spiced wine. These, by medical standard, were consumed as a digestive for his royal highness’ stomach, but it also served as a “eucharistic” thank you for the meal! He then washed his hands and departed the table.
Interestingly enough, the word “dessert” derives from the French “to clear the table”. As the word dessert was kind of bourgeois, the correct name for the final service of the meal was called “fruit”. Hence, here comes the fruit course, which was a luxurious additional as not all fruits were readily available, and some exotic types were extremely expensive. Even oranges, from more sunny or tropical locations were a particular treat. And then came the imitation of fruit with the introduction of marzipan, or a concoction of almond paste, painted to resemble fruit. A noble lord could really show off his status with an incredible dessert course!
By the middle of the 18th Century, the dessert course was taken to an inspired level, with displays of gardens, towers of confectionery flowers, elaborate mirrored platters with flowing patterns of spur sugar. If it could be imagined, it was tried! Served along with special sweet wines, these desserts were a feast for the eye as well as the stomach!