In YUMMY: A History of Desserts by Victoria Grace Elliot, adorable dessert sprites lead us on a whirlwind tour of deliciousness.
YUMMY: A History of Desserts
Victoria Grace Elliot
Random House Graphic
Nov 30, 2021
This book is a delight! One of the only things I knew about the history of desserts going in was that sugar wasn’t widespread in the ancient world so many ancient desserts used honey or fruit to sweeten. I learned from this book so much more. For instance, I learned “dessert” is a pretty new concept in the West and Medieval Europe didn’t differentiate between sweet and savory foods, how ice houses worked, that sugar was from India, and how even the use of honey in different parts of the world varied.
The book is organized into chapters about how different dessert types developed around the world, including ice cream, cake, gummies, cookies, and others. While the title says this book is a “history,” various sciences come into play as well as each chapter introduces the dessert’s presence in different places around the world and explains what makes the dessert work, whether it is leavening in cakes or freezing in ice cream. In each chapter, parts of the dessert’s history are highlighted with “interviews” with some of the famous figures of the desserts’ pasts, and there are frequent “Storytime” intervals when legends or verified inventions about a type of dessert are told as read aloud stories by one of the sprites. The Storytimes are some of my favorite parts of the book and Elliot does a nice job differentiating between which of these good stories are myth and which are verified.
I appreciate that Elliot is straightforward about the sociopolitical realities that shaped these histories. It’s not the focus or heavy-handed, but it makes sense to include the information that only very wealthy people in seventeenth century Spain could afford to employ chefs to make ice cream, for instance, or that the worldwide spread of Western desserts has been sadly linked to Western colonization and imperialism.
The recipes are well-written for beginners, too. For instance, the recipe for Funfetti cake specifies that the milk, butter, and eggs should all be room temperature, information many recipes for adults leave out. It also mentions why you are instructed to beat in the eggs one at a time, which frankly, I never bother with but now know why I should.
As a test of the recipes and also because I love cookies, my kid and I made Elliot’s Snickerdoodle recipe together. The instructions were clear and easy for my seven-year-old to read aloud and understand, and she loved the little asides from the sprites without finding they got in the way of following the recipe. We had some great conversations enabled by the recipe instructions about how leavening works, and why one would refrigerate the dough, too.
And most importantly with any recipe, we followed the instructions and the results were delicious.
As one might predict, my favorite dessert (it’s cookies) is also my favorite chapter of YUMMY: A History of Desserts. I think that indicates that this isn’t just a history of desserts, it is also a celebration of them, and whether you love gummies, donuts, or macarons, you’ll be satisfied to see your fave put on the pedestal it deserves.