Gingerbread Cooking for the Holidays

Gingerbread Cooking for the Holidays

Country Kitchen:

Gingerbread Cooking for the Holidays

By Mary Emma Allen

Gingerbread in all its variations has been a symbol of the Christmas season for centuries in Europe and America. The scent of spices fills the house when gingerbread, lebkuchen, and honey cakes are baking. The children decorate these goodies with colored icings and plump raisins.

This sweet has been considered one of the oldest types of cake with antecedents from pagan times. However, the gingerbread or ginger cakes/cookies that we know today generally date from the Middle Ages. Originally a honey cake, this food eventually included spices when they became available from the Far East.

During medieval times, fairs were held as social events. Gingerbread stalls, or booths as we call them today, were popular places for rich and poor alike. During tournaments, the ladies rewarded their favorite knights with gingerbread often shaped like a fleur-de-lis and decorated with gold leaf and cloves.

Gingerbread for the Holidays

Gingerbread also became a popular food for the Christmas season. Elaborate molds were made for shaping the ginger flavored cakes. Made from tin, terra cotta, or fruitwood, these molds consisted of many shapes - religious subjects, animals, people, birds, and soldiers. They were used for Christmas and throughout the year.

Gradually the figures became simpler and the details were added to the cakes with icing instead of by elaborate molds. Eventually cookie cutters replaced the mold as these cakes were made in the home instead of predominately by bakers.

Gingerbread in the New World

Gingerbread baking was popular in Pennsylvania where numerous Germans settled. In this country molasses often was used as the sweetener instead of honey.

Most housewives had their own set of tin cookie cutters, often fashioned by the itinerant tinsmith or peddler. She and her family made a great variety of cookies for the Christmas holidays, in the shape of hearts, people, birds, stars, moons, animals, and holiday designs.

Gingerbread Houses

Sometimes gingerbread houses will be part of the holiday decorations with white icing on the rooftop and candies around the doors and windows. These can be elaborate or simply made and nowadays may come in kit form, too.

In addition to gingerbread houses, we find some people create houses using other cookies such as sliced refrigerator ones. A reader shared with me that their family is researching all the different kinds of cookie houses that can be made and are looking for the recipes.

Cookies of Childhood

A GINGER MOLASSES COOKIE of my childhood calling for ginger and molasses was one of my favorites. Our neighbor, considered one of the best cooks of the area, gave this recipe to my mother.

Sift together 2 cups sifted flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg, 1 teaspoon cinnamon; set aside.

Cream 1 cup butter (or 1/2 butter, 1/2 margarine) and add 1 cup packed light brown sugar gradually. Add 1 well-beaten egg in thirds, beating after each addition; blend in 1/4 cup molasses.

Add the dry ingredients in fourths to creamed mixture. Chill dough at least 3 hours. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. Space 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10-15 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen.

Article (C) 2002 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has been writing her "Cooking Column" for newspapers and online publications for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. SheÂ’s currently compiling a cookbook/story book, "Tales From a Country Kitchen." Visit her web site for more cooking articles. Contact her at

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