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History

History of Gingerbread

Gingerbread has been baked in Europe since the eleventh century. In some places, it was a soft, delicately spiced cake; in others, a crisp, flat cookie, and in others, warm, thick, dark squares of "bread," sometimes served with a pitcher of lemon sauce or whipped cream. It was sometimes light, sometimes dark, sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, but it was almost always cut into shapes such as men, women, stars or animals, and colorfully decorated or stamped with a mold and dusted with white sugar.

In Medieval England gingerbread meant simply "preserved ginger" and was an adaptation of the Old French gingebras, derived from the Latin name of the spice, Zingebar. It was only in the fifteenth century that the term came to be applied to a kind of cake made with treacle, an uncrystalized syrup drained from raw sugar during the refining process, and flavored with ginger. Ginger was also discovered to have a preservative effect when added to pastries and bread, and this probably led to the development of recipes for ginger cakes, cookies, and flavored breads.

From its very beginning gingerbread has been a fairground delicacy. Many fairs became known as "gingerbread fairs" and gingerbread items took on the alternative name in England of "fairings" which had the generic meaning of a gift given at, or brought from, a fair. Certain shapes were associated with different seasons: buttons and flowers were found at Easter fairs, and animals and birds were a feature in autumn. There is also more than one village tradition in England requiring unmarried women to eat gingerbread "husbands" at the fair if they are to stand a good chance of meeting a real husband.

Of all the countries in Europe, Germany is the one with the longest tradition of flat, shaped gingerbreads. At every autumn fair in Germany, and in the surrounding lands where the Germanic influence is strong, there are rows of stalls filled with hundreds of gingerbread hearts, decorated with white and colored icing and tied with ribbons.

During the nineteenth century, gingerbread was modernized. When the Grimm brothers collected volumes of German fairy tales they found one about Hansel and Gretel, two children who, abandoned in the woods by penniless parents, discovered a house made of bread, cake and candies.

At Christmas, gingerbread makes its most impressive appearance. The German practice of making lebkuchen houses never caught on in Britain in the same way as it did in North America, and it is here still that the most extraordinary creations are found.

Gingerbread making in North America has its origins in the traditions of the many settlers from all parts of Northern Europe who brought with them family recipes and customs. By the nineteenth century, America had been baking gingerbread for decades.

American recipes usually called for fewer spices than their European counterparts, but often make use of ingredients that were only available regionally. Maple syrup gingerbreads were made in New England, and in the South sorghum molasses was used. Regional variations began occurring as more people arrived from Europe. In Pennsylvania, the influence of German cooking was great and many traditional Germany gingerbreads reappeared in this area, especially at Christmas time.

Nowhere in the world is there a greater collection of gingerbread recipes than in America —there are so many variations in taste, form and presentation. With the vast choice of ingredients, baking aids and decorative items the imaginative cook can create the most spectacular gingerbread houses and centerpieces ever. 

http://www.brachs.wilton.com/history.asp