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I'm having an event where one of the rules is that every dish has to contain both fruit and meat. I've spent the last half hour pondering as to what should I prepare as dessert.

Question: What makes us consider a food "appropriate" as a dessert?

(Subquestions: Has anyone studied it methodically? Would it be the absence of umami flavor or is that irrelevant? Is there some technique I can use to make these flavors blend better together?)

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Well, I've heard of bacon chocolate chip cookies, so I don't think desert is about absence of umami - though I haven't tried them, and don't know if people actually really like them or if it's just part of the bacon fad. –  Jefromi Feb 13 '12 at 5:07
    
@Jefromi, I wouldn't call cookies dessert, but that could be me. –  Mien Feb 13 '12 at 17:30
    
@Mien: Well they might not be a very fancy dessert, and are certainly eaten as snacks too, but I think most people in the US would say they could be dessert - see the first sentence of rumtscho's answer! –  Jefromi Feb 13 '12 at 17:40
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How about a mincemeat pie? Sure, many prepared mincemeats you buy now do not have any meat in them, but you should be able to find a recipe for mincemeat. I think the meat is usually venison, with apples and raisins and spices. –  thursdaysgeek Feb 14 '12 at 0:22
    
How strict are the rules? Does gelatin count as meat? –  MSalters Feb 16 '12 at 13:26
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2 Answers

The only thing which makes food considered appropriate as a dessert is cultural convention. This is obvious once you observe the differences between cultures.

In some cases, the difference is very clear-cut. The only tastes acceptable for desserts are sweet and sour, with sweet being banned from all other courses. This is common in cuisines inheriting Ottoman traditions. Desserts there are very sweet, and the addition of a sweet taste to a main dish (e.g. duck with oranges) or non-sweet to a dessert (e.g. salty caramel) is considered very strange and unpleasant. Other modern cultures are more permissive. There are well-known sweet-and-savory pairings even in Western cuisine (the abovementioned salty caramel, melon with ham, sugar-glazed carrots), and Asian and South American cuisines seem to be even more prone to such mixes (e.g. a meat pie in a plantain crust). Then there are cases where no sweet dessert is eaten at all, for example the French tradition of viewing a cheese plate as a dessert. And historically, there was no distinction at all, with nobility eating everything expensive they had mixed in a single dish, so that you had rose water mixed with black pepepr, rice and honey served to meat, for example. There is a reason why older books on English cuisine list "savoury puddings", even though today "pudding" in its broad sense has come to mean "dessert". For further reading, also see this article - it is mostly on food pairings, but you can see how North American cuisine builds two clusters of food combinations, one centered on baked desserts (flour, eggs, vanilla) and the other one on savory ingredients, while in Asian pairings, the effect is much less pronounced.

That said, I suspect that if you are serving your dessert to people with predominantly Western upbringing, they would have hard time accepting something very meaty as a dessert. While ham with apricot and almonds is an acceptable combination by Anglo-Saxon standards, it is not served for dessert. I would make something with a strong fruit component, and combine with a small amount of delicate meat. A fruit salad with a few shreds of proscuito should work. Alternatively, you could take some meat without much taste on its own, like chicken breast, include it in some kind of filling, and combine with lots of fruit.

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Even modern books on English cuisine could well list steak and kidney pudding and Yorkshire pudding. –  Peter Taylor Feb 13 '12 at 22:49
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How about being a bit playful and swapping the usual roles of fruit and meat. Make the meat sweet and the fruit savory. You could try pairing candied bacon with a smoked, roasted, or grilled fruit. You could apply any of those techniques to a good peach and have something tasty. Tie the course together with more familiar flavors, maybe nuts, a good, creamy cheese, and a glass of port.

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