A Pleasure for All

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Sugar became more widely available in the 18th century, when whole cookbooks were devoted to confectionery. England developed an especially strong sugar habit, and consumed large amounts in the tea and jams that fueled the working class. The per capita consumption rose from 4 pounds/2 kg a year in 1700 to 12 pounds/5 kg in 1780. By contrast, the French limited their use of sugar mainly to preserves and to desserts. In the 19th century, the growing production of sugar from beets, and the development of machines that automated the cooking, manipulation, and shaping of sugar preparations, brought inexpensive candies for all and encouraged an inventiveness that continues to this day. It’s in the 19th century that familiar modern candies and chocolates were invented, and the control of crystallization was refined. Taffy or toffee, from the Creole for a mixture of sugar and molasses, and nougat, from the vulgar Latin for “nut cake,” entered the language early in the century; fondant, from the French for “melting,” the basic material of fudge and all semisoft or creamy centers, was developed around 1850. Most candy today is a variation of some kind on bonbons, taffy, and fondant.