Gingerbread did not always signify the holidays and cookies iced to look like jolly little people. That’s actually a very small part of its history. Ginger was used in the ancient world for medicinal purposes, believed to settle upset stomachs as one example. The ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks both made an early form of gingerbread for ceremonial purposes.
It was the 11th century when ginger made its way to Europe. An early recipe had ingredients like ground almonds, stale breadcrumbs, rosewater, sugar and ginger. The mixture formed a paste that was pressed into wooden molds. The shapes were used like stories to show the news of the times and molds could be made into the shapes of royal figures, religious symbols and so on. They decorated the cookies with gold paint that could be eaten or with white icing for poorer people.
Gingerbread houses originated in Germany when the Brothers Grimm released a book of fairy tales that included Hansel and Gretel. In the story, the children were lured into a house made of gingerbread. As Germans came to America, they brought the tradition of making gingerbread houses with them and it spread throughout the country as well as Britain. In some places, it became a tradition to make a gingerbread house for the Christmas season and then break it open and eat it for the new year.
Here are a few gingerbread recipes.