Ever wonder at the origin of the term “sweetmeats”? It was in Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen, and I decided to look it up. Thanks, Food Timeline!
“Why are confections sometimes called “sweetmeats” in England? Laura Mason, British confectionery history expert, explains:
“The anamolies in our own language are due to the origin of sweets or sweeties…as diminutives of sweetmeat. This word, still not entirely obsolete, was in common use for over 400 years to the end of the nineteenth century. The suffix-meat has an archaic meaning of food in the widest sense (surviving in the phrase ‘meat and drink’), so sweetmeat simply means a sweet food…To the inhabitants of Tudor and Stuart England, sweetmeats were sugary foods in general, including pieces of flavoured candy and sugar-covered nuts and spices, products of medieval theories on the medicinal value of sugar, as well as dishes which used sugar as one ingredient amongst many, for structure, sweetness and an air of the exotic…Medieval feasts had provided several roles for sweetmeats.”
—Sugarplums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets, Laura Mason [Prospect Books:Devon] 2004 (p. 22)
[NOTE: We highly recommend this book if you need details on the history of all sorts of English candies.] “