Houses + Christmas = Gingerbread
When you combine a Realtor and a Baker, you're likely to get an article about Gingerbread houses, right? I do love a good ginger cookie, and I thoroughly appreciate the fun and even genius that goes into the construction of gingerbread houses
Before we begin talking about gingerbread, we must first talk about ginger, the spice. It originated in Southeast Asia, and was one of the first spices exported from Asia through the spice trade.
Historically, ginger was thought to have medicinal properties, particularly for stomach ailments. Doesn't Ginger Ale really hit the spot when your tummy isn't feeling well?
Ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations made a version of gingerbread, however what we consider gingerbread now wasn’t introduced until much later. An Armenian monk, named Gregory of Nicopolis, brought this gingerbread to Europe in 992 CE. Since that time, gingerbread has gone through many changes, and is available in many different varieties. Gingerbread can be anything from a moist cake to a hard ginger biscuit.
Queen Elizabeth I is thought to have popularized the first gingerbread man. She would impress visiting dignitaries by presenting them with a figure baked in their own likeness. Gingerbread tied with a ribbon was popular at fairs and, when exchanged, became a token of love.
In the 19th Century, Grimm's fairytale Hansel and Gretel gave rise to the popularity of the gingerbread house based on the descriptive language used to describe the little houses that lured the main characters. (Side note here is that the Grimm boys were thought to have found their inspiration in folk stories that were native to different areas, and in this case, Germany. Hansel and Gretel is pretty similar to some 14th Century popular German folktales. If you haven't seen it, go watch the movie Ever After with Drew Barrymore...it's an interesting take on the origin of Cinderella, another popular Grimm tale.)
If you're curious why gingerbread and gingerbread houses are associated with Christmas time, it's because in 17th Century Europe, only specially trained gingerbread bakers that were members of a bakers guild were allowed to create gingerbread, because the gingerbread was often shaped into the image of religious icons, and was therefore considered a sacred practice. During Christmas and Easter, this guild requirement was lifted, and anyone was able to bake gingerbread.
The world's largest gingerbread house, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was made just down the road in Bryan, TX by the Texas A&M Traditions Club. Their creation was 65 x 45 feet and was built outside in November 2013! The month-long endeavor was constructed using 1,800 pounds of butter, 7,200 eggs, 7,200 pounds of flour and close to 3,000 pounds of brown sugar. And of course, 22,000 pieces of candy that were attached to it.
I hope you've enjoyed this little foray into the world of gingerbread, here are a few recipe links you may enjoy:
In 1784, George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington had her own special recipe for gingerbread.
Sally's Baking Addiction (one of my fave baking sites!) has a great gingerbread man recipe.
Gimme Some Oven is another great baking site, and Ali shares her Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookie
Wishing you and your family a most joyous and blessed holiday season!