The Empire

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About
The old empire extended from the Alps to the south and west to the broad range of the Carpathian Mountains to the east. From the baker’s perspective, the region’s southern reaches are good for grapes, cherries, apricots, and wheat, while the north is better for apples, pears, plums, and sugar beets. Berries of every description grow in the forests, and walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts are ubiquitous. Pigs provide lard, and cows butter and cream.

Following the Counter-Reformation, the region was militantly Catholic. The church’s liturgical calendar specified what one could eat and when it could be eaten. With all the fast days, meat was forbidden almost one day in three. In the strictest interpretation of the rules, eggs and dairy were also forbidden, though in practice this level of abstemiousness was not always observed. On meatless days Central European cooks often turned to flour-based foods: noodles, dumplings, pancakes, and leavened baked goods. Many of these were sweetened initially with fruit, fresh or preserved, and later with beet sugar as it became affordable. Out of this practice came the vast repertoire of Mehlspeisen, a term that now translates as “pastry” but once encompassed any flour-based dish, whether sweet or savory. See mehlspeise.