It’s Holiday Cookie Time

The Secret History of Gingerbread

…. Did you know gingerbread was once declared illegal….???

Gingerbread …. originally a Halloween Treat…

 In the 19th century gingerbread became a staple of the Christmas Season! 

Let’s take a look at how that happened….

The term gingerbread derives from the Old French gigembras for gingered food. Marco Polo brought ginger to the West from China in the 13th century. Initially rare and expensive, the spice became widely available and cheap over time.

Religious orders were the first to gain access to the spice. Monks made a paste of breadcrumbs, honey, and ginger and rolled it out thin to feed the hungry and give religious instruction. They pressed it into molds carved with images of saints or biblical scenes before baking. Children learned the alphabet from a gingerbread slab with letters inscribed on it. Once they knew a letter, they were allowed to eat it off the slab. Gingerbread was used as a bribe, not just to learn lessons, but also to win favor. One head of state used it for self-promotion, distributing sweets stamped with his own image like coins.

Queen Elizabeth I hired her own gingerbread baker to feed her craving for the sweet. She ordered the baker to make gingerbread men that resembled visiting dignitaries and used them as party favors for state events. Commoners bought the sweet at gingerbread fairs and believed certain shapes were charmed. Gingerbread rabbits were supposed to increase fertility. Young unmarried women ate man-shaped gingerbread figures called “husbands” in hopes of attracting a live husband.

Superstitions about gingerbread flourished in the 17th century.  Witches supposedly made gingerbread figures, ate them, and thereby caused the death of their enemies. Dutch magistrates went so far as to declare baking or eating the molded cookies illegal.

Rescued from disrepute, gingerbread men became holiday icons in the 19th century when Queen Victoria popularized German traditions from her husband’s homeland, like evergreen trees hung with sweets. Nearly two centuries later, we still hang iced and decorated gingerbread men on Christmas trees and put them on our cookie platters…don’t forget… to leave some for  Santa too!

 Gingerbread Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg, room temperature                                 

3/4 cup molasses

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

Vanilla frosting of your choice

Red and green food coloring

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.

Add egg and molasses. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda

cinnamon, cloves and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until easy to handle, about 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with floured 2-1/2-in. cookie cutters. Place 1 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake until edges are firm, 8-10 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Tint some of the frosting red and some green; leave remaining frosting plain. Decorate cookies.

Cookie Baking Tips

Make your life easier by rolling the dough directly on a piece of parchment dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Use the cookie cutter to create shapes and remove the excess dough. Then, slide the parchment onto the baking sheet and bake away!

 Nutrition Facts: 1 cookie: 77 calories, 2g fat (1g saturated fat), 10mg cholesterol, 69mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 0 fiber), 1g protein.