Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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desserts a collective name for sweet dishes considered suitable for the last course of a meal, including cakes, ice creams, creams, raw and cooked fruit, puddings, pastries, and pies. Cheese may also be included amongst desserts. In Britain, ‘dessert’ is sometimes regarded as an elegant synonym for the words ‘pudding’, or ‘sweet’, which are used in the same collective sense.

The word derives from French desservir, meaning to remove the dishes, or clear the table. Originally ‘the dessert’, singular, denoted a course of fruit and sweetmeats, either placed on the table after the meal, or served at a separate table; in English, it replaced the word banquet, an older name for a similar course, during the 18th century. The change in emphasis from the 18th-century French ‘dessert’ to the 20th-century miscellany of sweet ‘desserts’ appears to have taken place in N. America. The word had a wider meaning for Americans as early as the end of the 18th century, whereas this usage was not common in England until the 20th century.