With Christmas two weeks away, the sweet and spicy smell of gingerbread is becoming a part of the ambience of bakeries and cafes. But do you know where the gingerbread comes from and how the gingerbread house tradition began and when?
Ginger was brought to Europe as a spice in 11th century from the Middle East. It became popular, especially in Germany. A common European recipe from the Middle Ages consisted of stale breadcrumbs, ground almonds, rosewater, sugar and ginger. This paste was pressed into wooden molds and baked. These cookies, however, were too expensive and only the rich could afford them at the time. In the 16th century breadcrumbs were replaced by flour in England. The English also added eggs and sweeteners. According to a legend, Queen Elizabeth I had her cooks bake small gingerbread men and serve them to her guests. Gingerbread figures became popular as gifts of love and friendship. Historians say that before refrigeration was invented in order to mask the odor of decaying meat aromatic gingerbread was added to recipes.
But the gingerbread house became really popular after the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel” in the 19th century. The witch’s name in the story is Frau Pfefferkuchenhaus – pfefferkuchenhaus is the German word for gingerbread house. And of course, the gingerbread houses were built to resemble the witch’s house. These houses were made of the harder German – style gingerbread and covered with a variety of candies and icing. In parts of Europe, in the 17th century, baking the gingerbread stuff year-round was allowed only to professional gingerbread makers. The ban was lifted during Christmas and Easter which can explain the use of gingerbread on Christmas.
Since 1991 in Bergen, Norway, people have built a city of gingerbread houses every year before Christmas. The name of the city was Pepperkakebyen (Norwegian for gingerbread city). In 2009 it was shockingly destroyed in an act of vandalism.
In Szczecin, Poland, in December 2001, a gingerbread house was made for the the Guinness Book of World Records. It took 4,000 loaves of brick-shaped gingerbread measuring 11 ½ feet high. People used 6,000 eggs, a ton of flour, and 550 pounds of shortening only to lose to an American team.
In Dubai, the gingerbread house tradition comes back to life every year with bakeries and coffee shops organizing workshops for kids and moms. You can see gingerbread house on the vitrines of pastry shops and decorative kits in the supermarkets.