December 20th, 2013
Hurray! It’s back! The season where we celebrate the story of a little girl’s victory over a wicked witch in the forest:
Though many gingerbread houses these days are inhabited by everything from Santa to pigs and unicorns, the tradition is actually inspired by our very own Gretel and her heroic efforts in the witch’s house. In Germany gingerbread houses are still often called ”Hexenhaeusle”.
Christmas & New Year writes on the history of gingerbread:
Ginger was brought to Europe as a spice in 11th century from the Middle East. It became popular, especially in Germany. A common European recipe from the Middle Ages consisted of stale breadcrumbs, ground almonds, rosewater, sugar and ginger. This paste was pressed into wooden molds and baked. These cookies, however, were too expensive and only the rich could afford them. In the 16th century breadcrumbs were replaced by flour in England. The English also added eggs and sweeteners. According to a legend, Queen Elizabeth I had her cooks bake small gingerbread men and serve them to her guests. Gingerbread figures became popular as gifts of love and friendship. Historians say that before refrigeration was invented in order to mask the odor of decaying meat aromatic gingerbread was added to recipes.
Gingerbread houses became popular after the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel” in the 19th century. The witch’s name in the story is Frau Pfefferkuchenhaus – pfefferkuchenhaus is the German word for gingerbread house. And of course, the gingerbread houses were built to resemble the witch’s house. These houses were made of the harder German – style gingerbread and covered with a variety of candies and icing. In parts of Europe, in the 17th century, baking the gingerbread stuff year-round was allowed only to professional gingerbread makers. The ban was lifted during Christmas and Easter which can explain the use of gingerbread on Christmas.
Here are some lovely gingerbread houses, sweet enough to tempt anyone to stray from the path…
Brothers Grimm: Hansel and Gretel
Camilla Bruce 2013