A short history of biscuits
Italy is renowned for being the birthplace of biscuits.
Reportedly, Roman soldiers were the first ones to use special rusk bread: ancient chronicles report that in 31 b.C. Antony's “milites”, before leaving for the battle of Anzio, where given provisions in the form of water biscuits, like the ones used by soldiers during both WWI and WWII.
Time changed their form, taste and thickness, but honey kept on being the favourite sweetener for centuries. The first confectionery products seem to have been made also with wine and milk, enriched – in the Mediterranean area - by wild nuts, hazelnuts and almonds, while subsequently sun-dried dates, figs and quinces were used, too.
In ancient Rome, the so-called pistores dolciarii were responsible for the making of sweet confectionery products: a sort of small cake made with dried cheese flour, eggs, semolina and honey seems to have been a real favourite at the time. Rich Romans used to offer something sweet at the end of their meals, in order to clean their palate: it usually consisted of peppered, hard, small dried biscuits, whose use extends to the Middle Ages, when they started being served between one course and another.
During the Middle Ages, the cosy and well-provided kitchens of the Italian monasteries hosted the production of many biscuits' recipes: ricciarelli, berlingozzi, calcionetti, pinocchiati, cotognate, morselletti, cialdoni del Magnifico Lorenzo and many more.
Confectionery becomes more refined with the passing of centuries: Maria Luigia, Duchess of Parma, had some hothouses installed in her duchy, in order to grow exotic fruit for the production of jams and candied fruit to be used by her cooks to prepare sweets.
At the half of the nineteenth century, the first confectionery factories opened in England, France, Italy, Belgium and in The Netherlands – initially as artisanal producers, who processed and updated ancient recipes. These small factories are no less than the forefathers of the increasingly upgraded and specialized big confectionery industry of today.
A short history of crackers
Nowadays' crackers are the heirs of water biscuits, which were once the staple food of ancient sailors. It all began back in 1801 in Massachussetts, where a baker named Josiah Bent started to produce “water biscuits” made by flour and water, which didn't deteriorate during long marine travels. The name “crackers” derives from the crackling sound produced during the baking process.
A short history of panettone
Panettone has remarkably ancient origins: are legend has it that it was created by Toni, the young offspring of the noble Atelleni family, who used to live in a house that he had received as a gift from Ludovico Il Moro. Toni fell in love with a baker's daughter, and tried to get a job at her father's shop, just to be closer to the beautiful Adalgisa. As business wasn't going well, and customers were increasingly rare, the "noble baker's boy" invented an enriched version of the local bread, by adding other ingredients like candied fruit and raisins, and that was it: Toni's bread (pane di Toni in Italian) became the... panettone.
A short history of pandoro
Pandoro is a traditional Christmas cake from Verona. Its birth dates back to 1800, as an evolution of the Nadalin, another local speciality. Some say the original recipe actually comes from Austria, where the "Bread of Vienna" was produced - probably a derivation of the French brioche. Others think that the pandoro is the heir of the so-called pane de oro, a cake that used to be served at the rich Venetians' tables.
A short history of colomba
The origins of colomba are quite recent: the creation of this Easter cake came from a famous confectionery and bakery industry in Milan, renowned for its panettone, that wanted to launch a seasonal leavened cake for Easter, too.
A short history of merendine
The economical boom of the Sixties caused a true explosion of the Italian confectionery industry - and the launch of the merendine (deriving from the Italian “merenda“, i.e. a small mid-morning, mid-afternoon meal), single portions of baked cakes, prepared after traditional recipes. The first ones to appear were the mottino, the buondì and the pandorino, followed at close distance by home-made cakes, based on simple ingredients such as margherita pastry, sponge cake and puff pastry, filled with jam or chocolate.
Since then, Italian snacks came to conquer a leading role in the kids' diet, starting from the “baby boomers”, the children of a consumers' society – a success that largely depended on an increasingly diverse and widespread offer, dedicated not only to children, but to teenagers, too.
The Seventies brought chocolate filled- or coated-, sponge cake-based snacks, whose packaging often contained small surprises.
The Eighties were the decade of the so-called "second generation" snacks, in order to satisfy the new nutritional demands of Italian people: ingredients started to include fibers and yoghurt.
The last revolution of the century, in the Nineties, was that introduced by the "refrigerated snacks", made of fresh pasteurized milk, providing a higher noble proteins intake.