Gingerbread, a beloved and necessary Christmas treat, can be traced back to ancient times. Recipes for these cookies span across centuries and continents. They became popular in ceremonial traditions and royal families.
Ginger was first harvested in ancient China as a medical treatment and was later introduced to Europe through the Silk Road and by Middle Eastern aristocrats during the Crusades. During the Middle Ages, ginger was primarily used to disguise the taste of meat and as a medication to resist the plague.
Gingerbread first appeared in Ancient Greece in 2400 BCE and Ancient Egypt, where they were used for ceremonial purposes. Recipes were later developed in China in the late 10th century and by Europeans in the late Middle Ages. Gingerbread at the time was made of stale breadcrumbs, crushed almonds, rosewater, and ginger and pressed into wooden molds. In Europe, cookies featured gold foil decorations and were often baked in the shape of animals and royalty that changed according to fit different seasons and time periods. In the 16th century, the recipe was modified with flour, eggs, and sweeteners. They were sold at Medieval Fairs across France, Germany, Holland, and England. Gingerbread Fairs soon became popular, with cookies served there becoming known as “fairings” and acted as tokens of love when exchanged. Elaborate and fancy gingerbread cookies became a symbol of elegance and luxury. Gingerbread arrived in America and the Western Hemisphere through the English colonists and was used in Virginian elections to sway voters. Much of the white architectural details found in colonial American homes are referred to as Gingerbread work. The concept of a gingerbread house first originated in Germany in the 16th century, where they were decorated with gold leaf and foil during the Christmas season. They became popular due to the story of Hansel and Gretel written by the Brothers Grimm. The record for largest gingerbread was recorded to be over 40,000 feet and was built at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. It required a building permit and 4,000 gingerbread bricks. Gingerbread houses have indeed come a long way since their ancient roots.