Gingerbread so much more than a little man

Odds 'n Sods, by Elaine Nyeholt: What is it about Gingerbread makes everything so comfortable and homey?

  • Jan. 4, 2016 6:00 a.m.

What is it about Gingerbread makes everything so comfortable and homey?  Maybe it is the aroma that rouses our senses.  I opted to do some internet research and was pleasantly surprised to find all kinds of information to share.

Since the time of the Crusades, in the 11th Century, European travellers began to bring back ginger, and the idea of making spiced breads.  Historians note that ginger has been seasoning food and drinks since antiquity in the countries of the Middle East, that had the root.

Ginger was found to be tasty and had preserving characteristics so the food travelled well.  It is documented that Nuns from Nuremberg began making gingerbread to ease indigestion in the 1400s, when the traditional sweetener was honey, (also a healing and preserving food).

At one time, Gingerbread was worn as a talisman in battle for protection… That would be tough gingerbread!

Gingerbread men date back to the 16th century.  The first documented instance of specifically shaped gingerbread biscuits is from the court of Queen Elizabeth the 1st of England.  By this time the Spice Islands had been overrun by the English and so molasses, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom were also used in the dough.  Elizabeth had figurines made in the likeness of her important guests; and the term, Gingerbread Men was born.

Then the notion to make gingersnap cookies as Christmas Tree decorations took hold in colonial North America.  German communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland made thin hard gingersnaps to dip in beverages during the winter months.

Decorated Gingerbread houses started in Germany thanks to Grimm’s Fairy Tale, of “Hansel and Gretel”.  The two abandoned children in the Black Forest, find an edible house of bread with sugary decorations.  Being hungry, this tempts them to nibble… and so it goes.

As with most temptations, the ramifications were not good, but gingerbread houses were made by German bakers ever since, and they are called Lebkuchen and became popular during Christmas because they last, and so the tradition came to America and still goes.

In our world of ‘Super-Size’ everything, a tradition has begun to create the biggest Gingerbread City, or perhaps a Gingerbread Port Clements.

That sound like so much fun!

This could be a January project, nothing really ties gingerbread to Christmas.


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