Gingerbread. Cookies and cakes and houses, oh my!! Smells like food to me!!!
Ah, the aroma of fresh cookies baking in the oven. Nothing quite like it. And simply nothing like the smell of gingerbread cookies. The crunch. That spicy taste. Molasses, brown sugar and honey – oh my! Dipping in coffee or milk to soften things up, and then boom, into my mouth for a holiday treat. Jackie and the girls are so flipping good at baking – if I didn’t keep up with my workout routines I’d be as big as Santa. One problem is that my ladies very seldom let me assist in the decorating…. still not sure why after all these years! I personally think that my decorating skills would certainly fall into the performance art category! I went searching for info for you to get a better handle on the Gingerbread history and traditions and a few fun recipes to try. Thanks to PBS, fillyourplate.org and befrugal.com for the tid bits.
- No confection symbolizes the holidays quite like gingerbread in its many forms, from edible houses to candy-studded gingerbread men to spiced loaves of cake-like bread. In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant preserved ginger and wasn’t applied to the desserts we are familiar with until the 15th century. The term is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines 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 to Europe via the Silk Road. During the Middle Ages it was favored as a spice for its ability to disguise the taste of preserved meats. Henry VIII is said to have used a ginger concoction in hopes of building a resistance to the plague. Even today we use ginger as an effective remedy for nausea and other stomach ailments. In Sanskrit, the root was known as srigavera, which translates to “root shaped like a horn”, a fitting name for ginger’s unusual appearance. Health Benefits
- The word “gingerbread’ derives from the Old French word “gingebras”, meaning “preserved ginger”.
- According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany.
- Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression “to take the gilt off of gingerbread”. The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as “gingerbread work”.
- Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.
- Shakespeare appreciated the value of gingerbread, with a quote from his play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, saying: “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread.”
- Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another.
- Gingerbread was considered the ultimate (edible) token of luck and love. Before a tournament, ladies would gift their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck.
- Folk medicine practitioners would create gingerbread men for young women to help them capture the man of their dreams. If she could get him to eat it, then it was believed he would fall madly in love with her. For those wanting to cut the maneating part out altogether, ladies could simply eat a gingerbread husband themselves to help them snag the real thing.
- According to Swedish tradition, you should place the gingerbread in the palm of one hand, make a wish and then break the gingerbread with your other hand. If it breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true.
- Some of the earliest forms of gingerbread didn’t even contain ginger and were not necessarily bread – they were essentially honey cakes.
- Over time, the popularity and availability of spices would vary gingerbread recipes. However, the use of butter and cream in 18th century recipes transformed gingerbread to the way it is today.
- Recently the record for world’s largest gingerbread house was broken. The previous record was set by the Mall of America in 2006. The new winning gingerbread house, spanning nearly 40,000 cubic feet, was erected at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. The house required a building permit and was built much like a traditional house. 4,000 gingerbread bricks were used during its construction. To put that in perspective, a recipe for a house this size would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger. For those of you interested, the house is estimated a mere 35,823,400 calories. Facebook page
- Years ago you could actually dine inside a gingerbread house. At the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Tucson, Arizona, they made a life-size gingerbread house where you could book for a private lunch or dinner during the holiday season. A dinner cost around $300 and guests could say they had a meal inside a structure made with 850 pounds of sugar! Images 2020 Ritz Carton Holiday Events
Some fun recipes:
Easy Gingerbread Cookies Recipe
Using butterscotch pudding mix, these cookies are easy to make with kids and fun to decorate from Seattle local station KCTS9!
Whole Grain Gingerbread Pancakes recipe
Make these gingerbread pancakes during the Christmas season or anytime for a breakfast that tastes like dessert from the PBS Food Fresh Tastes blog.
Building and Decorating a Gingerbread House
In this segment from “Craft in America,” Grove Park Inn pastry chefs Robert Alger & Iain Jones build and decorate a gingerbread house based on the President’s Cottage at Grove Park Inn.
Mini Graham Gingerbread Houses
Keep the holiday spirit going by making these cute Graham cracker gingerbread houses with your child from the PBS Parents Kitchen Explorers blog.
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