Convent Sweets

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

convent sweets have been prepared in Roman Catholic female religious houses since the sixteenth century. The tradition began in Italy, Portugal, and Spain, where there had been ready exposure to Islamic confectionery and sugar. With the establishment of Portuguese and Spanish empires in the Americas and Asia, convent sweets spread around the globe and beyond the convent walls. Although the whimsical or sexual names of many of the sweets, such as tits, nun’s farts, bacon of heaven, and little hams, suggest that they were frivolities, confectionery was a business, a metaphor for the spiritual life, a tool for diplomats and missionaries, and, like Baroque churches, an expression of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Convent kitchens were also the first area where Western women made a mark on high cuisine.