Ah, gingerbread. The smell of it baking, the taste of a gingerbread man, or the sight of a gingerbread house, conjures the holidays. Memories float forward, bumping out our to-do lists, allowing sweet visions of childhood to pervade our minds. It’s not just a number on a calendar that tells us the holidays are upon us. It’s the aromas, tastes, and visual feasts that make them real.
At The Solvang Bakery, the tantalizing redolence of baking almond butter rings elicits a hint of the holidays, but it’s the distinct scent of gingerbread that makes it definitive. Gingerbread has been embedded in our culture for centuries.
Gingerbread gets its name from the rather unattractive root ‘ginger’, and its color from molasses. The ginger root has long been associated with myriad health benefits and holistic medicine. It ‘s thought to aid in digestion (soothing stomach aches), be an anti-inflammatory aid, help with menstrual cramps and morning sickness, fend off disease, and even relieve some of the nausea associated with motion sickness. Some folks use it to relieve heartburn as well.
Gingerbread’s deep, rich color comes from molasses. Made with a variety of spices, it can contain brown sugar, molasses, granulated sugar, honey, and/or light or dark corn syrup. At The Solvang Bakery, we use two recipes, one for our gingerbread cookies, and a heartier recipe that’s ideal for building our sturdy gingerbread houses. Maili, an executive chef, and sister and daughter of bakery owners Melissa and Susan, published the recipe for gingerbread cookies on her blog…just click here to view it.
So where did gingerbread originate? There seems to be almost as many theories as there are gingerbread men. We can be pretty confident that some form of it originated in the Middle East as that part of the world brought spices to the western world, but there are references that go as far back as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558 – 1603) is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man. She would delight visiting dignitaries with gingerbread men made in their own likenesses. Contemporary to Queen Elizabeth I was none other than William Shakespeare who wrote in Love’s Labor’s Lost, “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”
Gingerbread houses gained popularity after the Brothers Grimm published Hansel and Gretel in 1812. The wicked witch’s house was made of gingerbread and was adorned with candy… a tantalizing treat to the hungry brother and sister.
Gingerbread is woven into the fiber of American history as well. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, developed a recipe for Gingerbread Cake in 1784. That recipe was reprinted in the blog Syrup and Biscuits, which you can find by clicking here. Gingerbread was Abraham Lincoln’s ‘biggest treat’ and he invoked a gingerbread anecdote in his Lincoln – Douglas debates.
With only a brief period of decreased popularity (‘witches’ used gingerbread men as voodoo dolls in the early 17th century), gingerbread has been a delicious part of our western culture for centuries. At The Solvang Bakery, we’re proud to keep these traditions alive and evolving…from our ovens to your table.
Have any great gingerbread memories to share? Please do!