Gingerbread Houses Conjure Memories of Christmas Past
By: Catherine Royka
We all know the famous tale by the Brothers Grimm who wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, two children who ventured into a home made entirely of sweets, rumored to be a home constructed of gingerbread. The history of gingerbread started far before this tale, but this is definitely one of the reasons the gingerbread house became so popular.
The history is murky how far gingerbread dates back and to where it can be traced first. One of the earliest forms of gingerbread and ginger can be traced back to the Monks and Egyptians who used gingerbread for ceremonial purposes. Gingerbread made its grand debut in Europe around the 11th century when Crusaders brought the spice back from the Middle East for cooks to experiment with.
It was not until the 16th century in Germany where the gingerbread houses and the cookies came about as a Christmas tradition, and Europeans had their own flair for it. Cookies and houses were popular in Germany, Holland, France and England, with cookies adorned with gold leaves, foil or shaped like animals, kings and queens. Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble dignitaries who were visiting her court.
Gingerbread is not just a delicacy, but is considered an art form in some major European cities – Nuremberg, Ulma and Pulsnitz in Germany, Torun in Poland and Lyon in France, where gingerbread guilds were sanctioned by the government starting in the Middle Ages.
The gingerbread ingredients that we know and love today are a bit different than what they used to be. Originally, it was made with honey, ginger and breadcrumbs. Today, basic gingerbread includes molasses, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, flour and butter.
Want to try out a gingerbread house of your own? Make sure you also know how to store it properly! If you want to keep your masterpiece looking fresh and sturdy throughout the holiday season, keep it in a cool and dry place. At night, cover it in plastic wrap to ensure bugs and moisture stay out. For the non-edible creations, spray with a clear lacquer, which is available at craft and hardware stores.