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The dragée: ancient roots and a very romantic origin



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This treat, synonym of love, comes from Greek mythology.
The legend tells the story of the beautiful Phyllis and Demophon’s mad love. Phyllis, thinking that his beloved passed away, wants to end her life. But Demophon came back and found his lover hanged. The Gods were touched by their strong love and they resurrected Phyllis as an almond tree. Demophon’s tears watered the tree which gave its first flowers.
Ever since, the almond is the symbol of eternal love. This is why weddings are celebrated with a hail of dragées.

But who invented this treat?

Its origins go back to ancient Rome, where Julius Dragatus, a confectioner, may have invented it by accidentally dropping an almond in a honey pot.
In France, it has been created in 1220 by an apothecary (the only people allowed to trade sugar) from the city of Verdun, who was looking for a way to ease the preservation and transportation of his almonds. He thought about coating them with sugar and honey hardened when cooked. Cane sugar, brought back from Middle-East by the crusaders, gradually replaced honey for the preparation of the dragées, because it gave them a smoother surface. The dragée no longer sticks to your hands and is about to travel around the world. In the Netherlands, Constantinople and in Russia, this treat is offered to the royalty and to the then powerful men.

The dragée is a delight for kings.

Very successful in the court of Louis XIV, the dragée is part of the chamber’s spices, arranged in golden and silver vases that were called ‘drageoirs’ (sweetie barrels). The Medici family has contributed significantly to its reputation by making it a synonym of the French elegance.
In 1750, a confectioner from Paris named Pecquet, invented a smooth dragée by cooking sugar syrup around an almond within basins that were twirling during an entire day. This ‘dragiste’, the creator of the modern dragée, became the official supplier of the Court to such an extent that Paris overthrew Verdun, the capital of dragées.
In 1777, a royal order removes from the apothecaries the sugar trade, to hand it over confectioners. The production process is modernized around 1840 by Moulefarine who invents the ancestor of the dragée turbine. The industrial age will allow to infinitely diversify its shapes, colors and flavours.
This high quality treat is deeply rooted in the French tradition. It is offered and eaten at great religious ceremonies, such as christenings or first communions, however it appears more at weddings.
Throwing dragées on the bride and groom when they leave the church is supposed to bring good luck. Moreover it’s a tradition that for a wedding, 5 dragées are offered as a symbol for 5 wishes: fertility, felicity, prosperity, health and long life.
The bitterness of the almond coupled with the sweetness of the sugar is the symbol of life’s joys and sorrows, for better or for worse.

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