The Gingerbread House, a Christmas Tradition

There are few things more synonymous with Christmas than the gingerbread house. But did you know this tradition got its start from a famous fairytale?

First cultivated in China some 5,000 years ago, ginger root was thought to have been initially used for medicinal purposes. Later it was used to season and preserve breads. It was also used to mask the smell and taste of cured meats. From the Middle East, one legend has it that in 992 the Armenian monk and saint, Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar), brought gingerbread to the northern French of Pithiviers where for seven years he taught baking ginger flavored breadstuffs to other priests and Christian bakers.

Gingerbread as we know it today began appearing in Europe during the 15th century. This was especially true in France, England, and Germany. And by the late 1400s bakers had begun shaping gingerbread into all sorts of figurines such as hearts, stars, animals, and religious items which were sold in shops and markets. In fact, gingerbread figurines and trinkets were so popular that gingerbread fairs were organized for the express purpose of sampling the popular confections.

It is believed that in the 16th century Queen Elizabeth was the first to have gingerbread man cookies made in the likeness of visiting dignitaries to which she presented them as parting gifts.

In the early 19th century Germany, well decorated gingerbread houses became popular following the 1812 publication of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel. And while their popularity didn’t catch on in Britain, gingerbread houses were well received in the rest of Europe, a Christmas tradition that was brought to America by the Pennsylvanian German immigrants.

Today making gingerbread houses in America remains extremely popular, not only as a traditional holiday family activity but commercially, as well as rival stores, hotels, schools, and civic organizations compete to see who can construct the largest and most elaborate.

On November 30, 2013, the Traditions Club in the small town of Bryan, Texas set a new world’s record for the largest gingerbread house in order to raise funds for a new hospital trauma center. It took 7,200 pounds of flour, 2,925 pounds of brown sugar, 68 pounds of ground ginger, 1,800 pounds of butter, and 7,200 eggs to build the 2,520 square foot house.

In 2017, sous chef Jon Lovitch of the New York Marriott Marquis hotel set the world’s record for the largest gingerbread village for the fourth year. The editable town had 135 houses and 22 commercial buildings, complete with gingerbread people, cars, and even a train.

Interested in making your own gingerbread house? Wilton, America’s largest baking products company, makes gingerbread house kits available at retail department, hobby and crafts stores nationwide. For those of you with a bit more skill in the baking arena, recipes and templates are available on a number of online web sites including my favorite shown below.

How You Make Em: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/gingerbread-house

NOTE: Brothers Grimm were actually two brothers; Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. The were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, and authors who together collected and published folklore. They popularized traditional oral tales such as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to name just a few of their more than 200 stories.

Pawpaws: America’s Forgotten Fruit

Whether you call them a custard apple, poor man’s banana, Quaker delight, or Hoosier banana, one thing is for sure, the fruit enjoyed for centuries by Native Americans is both healthy, nutritious, and very good for us. Pawpaws contain three times as much vitamin C as an apple, twice the niacin and riboflavin as an orange, and about the same potassium as a banana. They are also high in magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and several essential amino acids. And the big bonus is they’re delicious!

The pawpaw is the largest edible tree fruit native to North America and indigenous to the temperate woodlands of the eastern United States. Thanks to the American Indian, the pawpaw spread as far west as eastern Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas; from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.

The first documentation of the pawpaw is found in the 1541 journals of Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, who found Native Americans eating and cultivating them east of the Mississippi River. Later in 1787, the journal of Major Benjamin Sites, founder of Columbia, Ohio, describes he and a company of twenty-six settlers clearing a pawpaw thicket to build a blockhouse. Accounts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition make numerous mention of their fondness for, and dependency on, this native fruit. George Washington’s favorite dessert was chilled pawpaw fruit, and Thomas Jefferson cultivated them at Monticello.

The pawpaw is a yellowish-green, oblong fruit, with brown or black splotches, about six inches in length, and weighing about eight ounces. The complex flavor of its sweet, custardy, bright yellow flesh has overtones of mango, banana, and pineapple. Some with a melon-like aftertaste. It’s been said that the pawpaw is best when eaten immediately after picking since they have a shelf-life of only a few days. But the pulp can be used to prepare a number of tasty treats–from pies, breads, and custards to sauces, brandy, and beer.

Since the early 1900s, there have been fierce competitions for selecting the largest and best tasting pawpaw. The first of these contests occurred in 1917 where the winning entry out of seventy competitors received a $100 prize. The largest pawpaw ever recorded was grown in Athens, Ohio and measured eighteen inches in diameter.

Today, the Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area Program sponsors an annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival at scenic Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio, featuring three fun filled days of music, food, contests, art, workshops, and other events for young and old alike.

Although there is renewed interest in their development, large-scale production of pawpaws has not been successful, because the fruit is easily bruised, highly perishable, and does not ship well. The season for pawpaw fruit is typically late August through September. If you are fortunate to be in Ohio or Kentucky (or another state in which the fruit grows) during that time of the year, you can likely find pawpaws in local farmers’ markets or you can forage your own. Others can purchase fruit or pulp online.

Buy Em: Heritage Foods, Earthy Delights, Paw Paw Fruit

Make Em: Pawpaw Bread, Pawpaw Preserves, Pawpaw Pie