Gingerbread: A Delicious Legend and Lore
“Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”
Gingerbread is the stuff of legends and lore.
The Gingerbread Legend
But before the gingerbread as we now know it came to be, the word gingerbread was used to describe preserved ginger root.
It was even used to describe an ancient Roman honey cake that didn’t contain ginger and wasn’t even bread.
Gotta love those Romans.
The Chinese first cultivated ginger about 5,000 years ago. And this rhizome of the flowering ginger plant been used for it’s medicinal and even purported magical properties ever since.
Some say the Greeks created the first gingerbread recipe around 2400 BC.
Catholic Monks in France began baking gingerbread around 992 AD.
Then late in the 15th Century, German bakers introduced “lebkuchen”(lābko͞oKHən) or “pfefferkuchen” (ˈfefə(r)kükən), a soft and spicy treat.
This seems to be the precursor to our current gingerbread that we associate with the holidays.
Gingerbread Cookies Shaped Like People
About 100 years later, those first biscuit-like lebkuchen began to take on shape.
Unmarried German girls baked man-shaped cookies at street fairs for luck finding love. The belief was that the man who ate the cookie would fall in love with the young woman who baked it.
Around the same time, Queen Elizabeth I ordered that her royal gingerbread maker bake cookies in the shape of visiting dignitaries.
Soon all of Europe came to love gingerbread cookies in the shape of hearts, animals, and people.
The Gingerbread Lore
Not long after the Brothers Grimm wrote the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” in 1812, readers began to imagine the witch’s house as a gingerbread house.
In 1875 another fairytale gave us the modern day, quintessential gingerbread man who was later portrayed as a delightful character in the Disney movie Shrek.
In this fairytale, a childless couple baked a gingerbread boy to be their own.
He came out of the oven, sprang to life, and ran away, saying, “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man!”
And the rest is gingerbread history.