History of Christmas Recipes: Gingerbread Cookies

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Making gingerbread, whether it is cookies or houses, has become a popular Christmas past time for many families.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC.

An Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis brought gingerbread to Europe in 992. He stayed there seven years until his death and taught gingerbread baking to the French.

In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’ and wasn’t applied to the desserts we are familiar with until the 15th century. The term is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines ginger with honey, treacle or molasses.

The molasses provides the deep, rich color.

During this time the treat was served at festivals and carnivals, cut out and decorated as birds, flowers, animals, etc.

During the Middle Ages, ginger root was used as a spice to preserve meats.

The term Gingerbread is translated from French and German words meaning spiced bread or pepperbread.

Queen Elizabeth I is said to create hard cookies to resemble dignitaries visiting her court. She would then decorate the cookies, often using gold leaf. “The first gingerbread man is credited to Queen Elizabeth I, who knocked the socks off visiting dignitaries by presenting them with one baked in their own likeness.”

“Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread.’”

“Gingerbread tied with a ribbon was popular at fairs and, when exchanged, became a token of love.”

Shakespeare even mentioned gingerbread in one of his comedy’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Gingerbread houses originated in 16th Century Germany. Their popularity grew with the Hansel and Gretel story by the Brothers Grimm.

Gingerbread work then found itself into colonial American homes.

“George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, developed a recipe for Gingerbread Cake in 1784.”

“Gingerbread was Abraham Lincoln’s ‘biggest treat’ and he invoked a gingerbread anecdote in his Lincoln – Douglas debates.”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced gingerbread cookies, along with other German customs, which eventually spread in popularity.

The world record for gingerbread house was erected by a golf club in Bryan, Texas and spanned 40,000 cubic feet. The house was built as a regular building would be and even required a building permit.

The world record for a gingerbread village consists of 1,251 buildings constructed in Corona, New York.

We may not go that large scale, but do you enjoy making a gingerbread {wo}man, house, train, car or another decoration?

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