My kids wanted to make a gingerbread house this Christmas. While the gingerbread was cooking and the smell of ginger and spices was drifting though the house, we had a look at the history of gingerbread which was really very interesting.
The idea is thought to have been brought to Europe by the Crusaders in the 11th Century, although the recipe then was quite different to the one we use today.
It was popular in medieval Europe at fairs and festivals where it was moulded and shaped into many things including toys for children, hearts, people, coats of arms and characters from the Nativity around Christmas time. Unmarried women would eat a gingerbread man in the hope that it would help her find a husband!
Shakespeare mentioned it in his play Love’s Labour’s Lost written way back in 1598. “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”
It is also said that Queen Elizabeth I used to give gingerbread men as a special gifts to her favourite knights and courtiers.
We adapted this Medieval recipe found here, which uses bread crumbs, honey and spices. We used ginger and cinnamon, but gave the saffron and powdered pepper a miss.
You will need
- 200g of honey
- 3-4 slices of stale white bread made into breadcrumbs
- half a teaspoon of ginger (or to taste)
First, put the honey into a pan and heat it until it boils. Add the spices while it is still warm, then allow to cool a little. Stir in the bread crumbs until you have a firm, sticky dough.
You can then mould the dough into shapes or cut it into squares. The original recipe calls for it to be decorated with leaves and cloves.
We also had a go at putting some into a mould inspired by these amazing moulds. I had a small silicone cake mould which we just pushed the dough into, then let in set in the fridge for half an hour.
What do you think? We liked them but I warn you they are very very sweet. Even my two boys could not eat a whole piece.
We also made some gingerbread men and hearts with our modern gingerbread recipe which were a bit more popular!
But now when I eat one, I can picture myself back at a market in the middle ages…