A Look into the World of the 18th-century Confectioner!

Main-ImageIf someone were to hear “confectionery” or the “confectioner,” many foodies would draw upon images of sweet and delectable treats. The chocolate almond, strawberry creams, or even frozen delights, such as coffee ice cream. But salads?

That is correct: the salad was one area of expertise under the prevue of the confectioner. According to Dictionary.com, the word confectioner (a noun) describes “a person who makes or sells candies, and sometimes, ice creams, cakes, etc.” The origin of the word dates back to the 16th century. When looking at the root word, confection, several definitions are listed, but when it comes to food it is defined as “a sweet preparation of fruit or the like, as a preserve or candy.” Another related definition hints at confection’s medicinal past: “a medicated preparation made with the aid of sugar, honey, syrup or the like.”

lemon-saladSo it seems that the modern definition doesn’t lend its hand to explaining how the salad ended up being under the confectioner’s direction. How did this come to be? According to food historian Ivan Day, substantial households reserved a special room or set of rooms for the confectioner to practice their art. “…Salads, confections and other desert foods were prepared in a separate suite of rooms called the office.[1]”

Salad-IngredientsIt makes sense to remove the delicate ingredients of a salad away from the heat of the kitchen. This is especially true when dealing with lettuces and herbs. But according to Day, there was a wide “range of salad recipes suitable for the different seasons of the year.[2]” Some of the more unusual salads included Salad of Sugared Capers, Lemon Salad, and Pomegranate Salad.

Canteloupe-Salad2As with all food work of the 18th century, especially when cooking in gentry households, the food work must be decorative. And here is where the confectioner truly shines with his or her skills in artistry and beauty. Balance and symmetry must complement the salads, just as this dish must complement to look and balance of the table as a whole.

Broccoli-SaladSo perhaps the next time you create a salad for your family, take time out to find inspiration from our 18th-century confectioners. Perhaps try recreating some of the period salad receipts? See what culinary masterpieces you can create for your table to be enjoyed by family and friends.

Melissa Blank
Historic Foodways

[1] Day, Ivan. Cooking in Europe, 1650-1850. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2009. Pg. 2.

[2] Ibid. Pg. 7.

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4 Responses to “A Look into the World of the 18th-century Confectioner!”

  1. September 17th, 2015

    Oh, this is really interesting. I never realized that salads were a “confection” of a sort.

    Also… is that a cantaloupe with a drawbridge???

  2. October 6th, 2015

    Melissa Blank says:

    Yes that is a draw bridge! I am glad you noticed it!

  3. January 31st, 2016

    casey says:

    This is so interesting!! I am a pastry chef in Colorado and I often get assigned the salads wherever I work. Interesting to see the historical connection

    • February 12th, 2016

      Melissa Blank says:

      Recently I looked at some of our historic cookbook table layouts, and found among the what we would consider “traditional desserts”, and right on that display was listed the lemon salad. Again, the role of the confectioner to be not only artistic but versatile in the dishes they creates continues to excite me as I perfect my confection sills.

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