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Gingerbread House Day

"An I had but one penny in the world,
thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”

~ William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost

Ginger, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, coriander, star anise, mace, cardamom, and black pepper are classic spicy ingredients for this most favorite of Christmastime treats whether in gingerbread, gingerbread man, or gingerbread house form! The hard gingerbread 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. Medieval ladies often gave their favourite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck in a tournament or superstitiously ate a "gingerbread husband" to improve their chances of marriage. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of elaborate decorating of gingerbread cookies after she had some made to resemble dignitaries visiting her court. Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century and became linked in people's minds to the Hansel & Gretel fairytale of the Brothers Grimm in the form of the witch's house made of treats!

December is the month devoted to traditional Christmas foods, and gingerbreads and cookies are one of the most anticipated of Christmas treats.  With many variations of ingredients, gingerbread is usually flavoured with ginger, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, coriander, star anise, mace, cardamom, and black pepper.

Gingerbread was a favourite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe - often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, and animals.  Several cities in France and England hosted regular "gingerbread fairs" for centuries.  Ladies often gave their favourite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck in a tournament or superstitiously ate a "gingerbread husband" to improve their chances of marriage.  Some even considered it medicine: 16th -century writer John Baret described gingerbread as "A Kinde of cake or paste made to comfort the stomacke."

The meaning of the word "gingerbread" has been reshaped over the centuries.  In medieval England, it referred to any kind of preserved ginger (borrowing from the Old French term gingebras, which in turn came from the spice's Latin name, Zingebar.)  The term became associated with ginger-flavoured cakes sometime in the 15th century.

 

In Germany, gingerbread cookies called Lebkuchen have long been a fixture at street festivals, often in the shape of hearts frosted with sugary messages.  The Germans also invented the concept of making gingerbread houses, probably inspired by the witch's candy cottage in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

North Americans have been baking gingerbread for more then 200 years - even George Washington's mother gets credit for one recipe - in shapes that ranged from miniature kings (pre-revolution) to eagles (after independence).

This tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, was inspired by a love of her favourite gingerbread cookies and uses the deliciously named colours of golden brown, coffee bean, and cioccolato.

 

If you are looking to create a spicy gingerbread cookie or quick bread and would like to add  some new flavours to your favourite recipe, click the spices above for a traditional Lebukuchengewürz recipe (German Gingerbread Spice), with 9 spices!