History of Gingerbread

Brenden Slaney

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    When many people think of Christmas, gingerbread men and houses appear in their minds, however many people have no knowledge the history of gingerbread. The term “gingerbread,” meaning “preserved ginger,” has been used since the fifteenth century. The term is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines ginger with honey, treacle, or molasses.

    During the Middle Ages, people used ground ginger root to disguise the taste of preserved meats. Henry VIII used a ginger concoction to help build resistance to the plague. The first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed by the tenth century, and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans created their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies became a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland, and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I became credited with the idea of decorating the cookies. The shapes of the gingerbread eventually started to change with the seasons, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England.

    Gingerbread arrived in the New World colonies with English colonists. Sometimes, Virginia voters used the cookies to sway other voters to vote a certain way. The even softer version of gingerbread became more common in America. George Washington’s mother served her recipe for gingerbread to Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her home.

    For more information on the origins of gingerbread and how it came to be known as it is today, visit http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/. People who are interested in tasting types of gingerbread can go to their local supermarket and purchase some to find out the flavors!