It’s the holiday season once again! One of the things that fondly remind us of Christmas is gingerbread. Whether it’s gingerbread men or gingerbread houses, they surely give off quite the festive feel. To better appreciate gingerbread, let’s talk about the history of gingerbread.
But first of all, what is gingerbread? Gingerbread is a baked good that contains ginger, wheat-flour, butter, hence the name. Sometimes it also contains other spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, and it’s sweetened with brown sugar, honey, and the like.
History of Gingerbread
The first known gingerbread recipe was from 2400 BC Greece. Gingerbread was primarily used for ceremonies. The Chinese also developed their own recipes, which spread to other countries who made their own varieties.
In Europe, gingerbread was made when crusaders brought spices from the Middle East. It then became more widespread when spices became more accessible to the common folk.
Ginger was the main ingredient in gingerbread due to the preservative effect it has on breads, pastries, and the like. So in England, the word gingerbread just meant “preserved ginger”. This was until the 15th century when it started to refer to the gingerbread treats we know today.
Gingerbread used to be made with ground almonds, breadcrumbs, sugar, rosewater, and ginger. Later on, they replaced the breadcrumbs with flour and added other ingredients such as eggs.
Gingerbread Men and the Houses They Live In
Gingerbread men, however, were credited to Queen Elizabeth I. She would decorate the gingerbread cookies and shape them into gingerbread men. These gingerbread men would resemble the visiting dignitaries who went to her court.
In England, young women had a tradition of eating gingerbread men. This ensured that they would get married and not become old maids. During town fairs for patron saints, gingerbread cookies would be decorated in the image of the saint.
If there are gingerbread men, though, there should be gingerbread houses for them to live in. Gingerbread houses originated from Germany during the 1500s. These were more associated with Christmas than gingerbread men.
Gingerbread houses became popular after Hansel and Gretel, a fairy tale, was published by the Brothers Grimm. German settlers then brought the gingerbread house to the Americas where it caught on.
In colonial America, gingerbread recipes differed from the recipes Europeans used. Furthermore, they also liked to use ingredients that were native to their area. An example would be maple syrup molasses for the northerners.
Despite the fact that gingerbread cookies were basically invented by Queen Elizabeth I, the treat was more popular in America than England. Due to the Germans bringing the tasty snack over, American recipes resembled German ones more, too.
‘Tis the Season for Gingerbread
When’s the best time to eat gingerbread cookies? People before used to celebrate gingerbread fairs where they would have gingerbread cookies for different occasions. Spring, summer, fall, winter – no season was spared from gingerbread.
For example, during fall, they would shape the gingerbread into birds. During Easter, in spring, they would shape it into flowers. In France and England, bakers guilds used to have exclusive rights to make gingerbread except during Easter and Christmas.
Despite this, people still reserved gingerbread for special occasions, the holidays being one of them. That’s how gingerbread became a tradition embedded into the Christmas spirit.
So nowadays, people usually crack out the recipe during the holiday season. However, don’t let this stop you from getting your gingerbread fix at any time of the year! There are loads of recipes and gingerbread designs for different seasons on the Internet.
Gingerbread World Records Today
According to the Guinness World Records, the largest gingerbread house built to date is located in Texas, USA. It measured 18.28 x 12.8 x 3.07 meters, and you could actually go inside! The inside was almost as big as a tennis court, with an area of 2,520 ft2.
This gingerbread house was built like a traditional house and due to its size, it even needed a housing permit. It needed 1,800 lbs. of butter, 1,080 ounces of ground ginger, 7,200 eggs, and 7,200 lbs. of flour. If you were to live in a gingerbread house like this one, I’m sure you’ll have some sweet dreams!
On the 6th of January 2017, the biggest gingerbread village was made by Jon Lovitch from New York. The village consisted of 1,251 buildings. The gingerbread village was laid out horizontally in tiers.
The largest gingerbread village in area size, however, was made by El Dorado Royale by Karisma, in Mexico. It’s 14.72 meters long and 5.99 meters wide with 216 buildings. The village is modeled after a Yucatan Peninsula town with replicas of various buildings common in those towns.
Gingerbread All Over the World
Since gingerbread has become so widespread over the centuries, other countries have come up with varying versions of it.
The French have a treat similar to gingerbread called pain d’epices. Unlike gingerbread though, they’re exclusively sweetened with honey. Traditional gingerbread can be sweetened with pretty much anything and still be called gingerbread!
In Germany, you can find both hard, biscuit-like gingerbread and the soft, cake-like ones. This is good if you like to try out different kinds of gingerbread! In England, they sometimes include other things like raisins, nuts, or even apples in their gingerbread.
In Sweden and in Norway, they even have a special version of gingerbread that’s used to create window décor. These are called pepperkaker in Norwegian or pepparkakor in Swedish.
In a Nutshell
Gingerbread is certainly something that gives off that Christmassy feel, but of course, you can have it anytime too. While it is a delight to eat them, for some people they find joy in decorating gingerbread houses or men, too!
The tradition of decorating gingerbread treats goes a long way back and they would even show off their creations in fairs. Nowadays, ambitious people make massive gingerbread houses or villages and set world records with them.
This holiday season, we hope you learned to love gingerbread even more by learning about its origins. You might even be inspired to create gingerbread using local ingredients, like the Americans of the colonial era.
We hope you liked this article! If you found it informative, don’t forget to share it with your friends or on social media. We wish you a crispy (or however else you like your gingerbread cookies!) Christmas and happy holidays!