Everyone knows that gingerbread is delicious, but do you know its sweet and spicy history?
It’s safe to say that gingerbread is one of the most talked about treats with stories about it dating as far back as ancient Greece. Even William Shakespeare wrote, “And I had but one penny in the world thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread.”
Its origins can be traced back to 2000 BC, when wealthy Greeks would travel to the Isle of Rhodes to buy what they called, “spiced honey cakes.” Both Greeks and Egyptians used a form of gingerbread for ceremonial purposes and they eventually transformed into a treat you gave to show your love, much like the modern day practice of giving candy on Valentine’s Day.
Gingerbread made its appearance in Europe in 992, thanks to an Armenian monk named Gregory of Nicopolis. He spent seven years in France teaching the art of making gingerbread, which, interestingly enough, didn’t include any ginger. Finally, in the 11th century, ginger spread throughout Europe, all the way from Malaysia. Catholic monks were the first to add the spicy root; they placed the cookie dough into intricate molds depicting saints and religious scenes.
By the 17th century, gingerbread took many forms; soft, crisp, or as a warm, thick cake served with lemon sauce. The form of gingerbread men likely came about because Queen Elizabeth I gave important visitors gingerbread molded to look like themselves. Thanks, Queen Elizabeth I, those are delicious. Sound amazing? Check out this recipe for gingerbread cake with either caramel or lemon sauce on Thibeault’s Table.
So, what about gingerbread houses? They made their debut in Germany during the early 1800’s and many believe they were inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel. German immigrants, or the Pennsylvania Dutch, brought gingerbread houses to the United States when they immigrated and have been an American tradition since.
In America, we associate gingerbread with Christmas. Why? Well, during the 1950’s, marketing geniuses at department stores created Christmas scenes out of gingerbread to lure customers in. They found that the smell of gingerbread attracted more customers than ever before. But it isn’t just for the winter holidays. Some clever decorating makes a gingerbread house perfect for occasions like Halloween as well!
Is gingerbread a mainstay at your holiday table?