14 March, 2019
Most people relate gingerbread with the holidays. Mom would make it any time of the year. Usually she would serve it warm with a big dollop of whipped cream on top. Yummy! Do you all know where this wonderful dessert came from?
In Medieval England, the term gingerbread meant preserved ginger. It wasn’t applied to desserts until the 15th century. Now, the term applies to any sweet treat that uses ginger with honey, treacle or molasses.
Ginger root was first cultivated in ancient China where it was commonly used as a medical treatment. From there, it spread into Europe. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly used as a spice to disguise the taste of preserved meat. It’s said that Henry VIII used a ginger concoction to help him build a resistance to the plague. Even today ginger is used as an effective remedy for nausea and other stomach ailments.
The first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. During the 10th century the Chinese developed their own recipes and during the Middle Ages the Europeans had their own recipes. Gingerbread cookies were made into shapes of kings and queens and sold at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with this idea because she thought that this would honor visiting dignitaries. These festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs.
The shapes of the gingerbread would then change with the seasons. Some of the more elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The fancier gingerbread was often decorated with gold leaf.
Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. Alot of these were decorated with gold leaf and became associated with Christmas tradition. The popularity of these rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel. This is the story where the main characters stumble upon a house made of sweets deep in the woods. It’s unclear as to whether gingerbread houses became popular because of the fairy tale or vice versa.
The record for the world’s largest gingerbread house goes to the Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. In 2006 a house was built that spanned nearly 40,000 cubic feet. They even had to obtain a building permit for this. 40,000 gingerbread bricks were used for the construction. To put this in perspective, a recipe for a house this size would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger. Sounds more like a gingerbread resort!
Gingerbread arrived in the New World with the English colonists. The cookies were made for political candidates to give out to help sway the voters. In America the softer version of gingerbread was preferred. It can be made into loaves or as a cake. These days you’ll find many versions of gingerbread. The recipe below comes from a 1905 recipe and is one of my favorites.
1 cup molasses
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ginger
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
Beat eggs until light. Add molasses, baking soda and ginger. Mix well.
Add the melted butter and milk.
Mix in the flour just until incorporated.
Pour into a buttered 8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 25 minutes. Test with a toothpick. If it comes out without batter, then it’s done.
NOTE: This is the recipe from A Little Cookbook for a Little Girl. I added the pan size and the temperature and time. The original recipe doesn’t have that.