Candy Facts: Halloween Treats From Ancient Recipes

October 30, 2008

Trick-or-treaters reaching for individually wrapped candy bars this Halloween probably won't stop to wonder about the origins of their sugary treats.

But for anyone with a taste for adventure, the holiday could be an ideal time for a sweet history lesson, as a remarkable number of bygone confections can still be bought or made.

For instance, "most medieval sweets are still around in some form or another," said Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Candy.

Prehistoric treats such as tree sap, honeycomb, and raw sugarcane might not be popular anymore as stand-alone foods.

There are, however, several old-school items that may delight, surprise, or perhaps repulse your Halloween guests.

(Related: "Keep Halloween Fair," National Geographic's Green Guide [October/November 2007].)

Dates and Figs

Whether date and fig concoctions count as true candy is up for debate. But the ancient Romans ate them as sweets—and left behind detailed recipes.

One first-century A.D. treat, recounted in Sweets, calls for mashed figs with cumin, fennel, anise, and sesame seeds rolled into balls. (A version made by National Geographic News found no takers, perhaps due to the overpowering smell of cumin.)

The lumps can be wrapped in fig leaves for added authenticity or for easy distribution.

If spiced fig wads sound unappetizing, consider that Romans also ate dormice for dessert, feeding figs to the small rodents to sweeten their meat before baking them in pies.

Another first-century A.D. Roman recipe, also noted in Sweets, was more tolerable to modern palates: pine nut-stuffed dates, rolled in salt and fried in honey. (National Geographic testers said the confections tasted like salty, crunchy caramels.)

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