Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Countdown 3 : Gingerbread Men and Houses


from http://www.godecookery.com/cookies/mocohist.html
 In our family,gingerbread especially in the form of figures, is popular but we didn't know we were following a royal tradition. I had always associated gingerbread men with children, but the tradition of dunking gingerbread men in port wine doesn't quite match the image of the treacle cookies decorated with sweets and icing today.
The first gingerbread men are said to have been created for the amusement of Queen Elizabeth I. They were moulded into the image of her favourite suitors and courtiers, decorated with gold leaf then devoured at royal feasts.
 
from taste.com.au 
Just like the gingerbread men, the houses have a certain magical quality which appeals to children and the young at  heart. Our grandchildren love a gingerbread house - often made today or tomorrow, Christmas Eve. We don't have a special pattern for our houses but  I do remember a Christmas Eve in 2008 when our Finnish exchange daughter and a her friend from Switzerland, both feeling a bit homesick,  made a gingerbread house with coconut and marshmallow snow.  It was quite an engineering feat, but it stood the test of three small children on Christmas Day. However, in Finland, the gingerbread house is not eaten until 6 January. 
Riikka's Gingerbread House 2008 
My daughter-in-law usually makes the gingerbread house and gingerbread cookies for us, but today I noted on social media an unhappy baker - new gingerbread recipe not successful! Here is one of her previous successes - a large chalet with smaller child size houses 
Kellie's gingerbread houses

Perhaps the gingerbread house challenge on Masterchef Australia 2011 has set a benchmark....something to aspire to.... next Christmas?  
Masterchef Australia from www.news.com.au
Gingerbread   is known by many names and varies in texture in different countries - for example, In the Netherlands and Belgium, a soft and crumbly gingerbread called Peperkoek, Kruidkoek or Ontbijtkoek is popularly served at breakfast time or during the day, thickly sliced and often with butter on top.In Germany gingerbread is made in two forms: a soft form called Lebkuchen and a harder form, particularly associated with carnivals and street markets such as the Christmas markets that occur in many German towns. Parkin is a form of soft gingerbread cake made with oatmeal and treacle which is popular in northern England.

Gingerbread has a long history in Europe. It is likely to have been  brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis. He left Nicopolis Pompeii, to live in GingBondaroy (France), near the town of Pithiviers. He stayed there for seven years, and taught gingerbread baking to French Christians. During the 13th century, gingerbread was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. In 15th century Germany, a gingerbread guild controlled production. Early references from the Vadstena Abbey show how the Swedish nuns were baking gingerbread to ease indigestion in 1444. 
The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 17th century,  where they were sold in monasteries, pharmacies and town square farmers' markets. In Medieval England gingerbread was thought to have medicinal properties. 

If you recognise this Golden book cover, I guess you are already a fan of gingerbread and have your own favourite recipe.  If you haven't, here is a link to an easy gingerbread recipe