Last week I talked about the era of food prior to the domestication of honey, and pondered a bit on dried fruit. While I wouldn’t go as far as say that dried fruit is candy, it would have likely been seen as a treat for some, and a necessity for those who needed food beyond the shelf life of fresh fruit.
(I also mentioned trade last week, and I want make sure that when I talk about trade in this era, it would have been quite local, rather than the massive continental routes that would occur around the time of the Ancient Greeks. Trade existed, to be sure, but it was very much small scale. I do plan on discussing history of trade at some point, because it plays a vital role in the disseminating of various cooking ideas and ingredients, especially sugar, which was quite a unique product back in the day. It will be in that post that I will try to explain just how difficult trade and traveling was at that time, as well as the resources needed to make it happen. I’ll have to remember that when I say “trade”, that it will be important to keep it in context of the era being discussed.
Okay, back to fruit…)
Dried fruit would have also been perfect for travelers/migrants who had to ensure some measure of appeasing their appetite without taking up too much space. I almost wrote “nutrition” there, in place of appetite, but nutrition was a nearly unknown concept, at least when compared to who we view it today. Hunger, however, is a universally understood concept, for obvious reasons. While the dried fruits provided nutrition, they would not have recognized it as such.
Fruits are extremely versatile, and eating them whole, sliced, or diced would not have been the only options available to the folks seven thousand years ago. They would also have been pureed via the mortar and pestle, or heck, even smashing them between two rocks.
Once a civilization purees (or smashes, to use a more prosaic term) fruits, new culinary options open up to them.
For one, they could have added flour to the puree, creating the most basic of fritter or cake.
Or, they could have added water, and then boiled and evaporated out all of the moisture.
Another path would be to expose the puree to dry ambient heat, either through direct sunlight, or an oven of some sort. If the fruit in question had enough natural pectin, when the moisture within evaporated, the puree may have gelled enough to become a sort of fruit “leather”.
I say “may” here quite intentionally, for a variety of reasons. My hypothesis is based solely on circumstantial evidence. No anecdotal evidence currently exists. We do that fruits that today have high pectin had been domesticated, specifically the apple. We do know that they had the technology to dry and bake foods at this time. So some areas of the world certainly had the means (specifically in the Indus region), but we have no direct evidence whether they did or did not.
Additionally, it’s important to point out that the fruits of then are MUCH different from the fruits of now. While we would have recognized an apple, date, or cherry, they still would have been notably different in size, texture, and even taste, from similar products of today. Blame thousands of years of fruit evolution, and us mucking about in genetics on this. So an apple from ten thousand years ago may have had less pectin within it on average than the apples we have today.
Considering all of the above, at some point early on in the history of civilization fruit leather was made. When, and by whom, are simply unknown.