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.

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

TreesWhat would Christmas in America be without cookies? There would be no snack for Santa, no visions of sugar plums for the children and no edible decorations for the tree. Christmas it seems was, above all other holidays, invented with cookies in mind.

While Christmas cookies have been around since Medieval Europe, it was the Dutch settlers who introduced them to America during the early seventeenth century. In fact, the word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje, meaning “little cake.”

candy caneOriginally cookies were largely hand formed. But by the mid-1800s, cheap, elaborately decorated tin and copper cookie cutters were being imported to this country from Germany. These cutters, often shaped as stylized Christmas images, were designed not only for making cookies to eat, but also for ornaments for the tree. The widespread availability of these utensils significantly increased the popularity of Christmas cookies, and recipes began to appear in cookbooks showing how to use them.

The term “cookey” first appeared in print in 1703, but it would be 1796 before the first Christmas cookie recipe was published in this country. In American Cookery, considered by most food historians to be the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons wrote the following:

“Christmas Cookey
To three pound of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one tea spoonful of pearlash [a rising agent] in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.”

xmas treeThere is probably no better known holiday cookie tradition than that described in the poem The Night Before Christmas, written by an Episcopal minister named Clement Clarke Moore. Until it’s publication in 1822, leaving a Christmas Eve treat for the “Jolly Old Elf” was unheard of. During the Depression of the1930s, naughty children began leaving cookies and milk out for Santa in hopes that in exchange for the “bribe” he would leave a gift. Children who were good left the snack out as a token of their thanks.

Americans consume over two billion cookies a year, or about 300 for each person. How many of these are eaten during the Christmas holidays is not know. What is known is that Americans have enjoyed these delightful confections for over four-thousand years. This year, why not celebrate the wonders of the season by starting your own cookie tradition. With that thought in mind, may we present GrubAmericana’s classic Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies.

sugar cookieSugar Cookies, are also called Amish sugar cookies or Nazareth sugar cookies. This classic cookie was created by the Germans who settled near Nazareth, Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. In 2001, it was adapted as that state’s cookie.

spritzSpritz Cookies, also known as Swedish Butter cookies, originated in Germany and Scandinavia. The delicious vanilla flavor and rich buttery texture of this pressed cookie makes it one of the world’s most popular.

Christmas Citrus Squares. This modern take on the clasic seasonal bar consists of layers of delicate crust, red current jam, and a wonderful Clementine flavored custard.

Gaiety_Pastel_CookiesJello Pastels are a colorful, quick, and easy-to-make cookie that’s sure to be a big hit as a holiday gift, party treat, or just a family snack. So popular that you might think about making a double batch.

Chocolate Covered Snow Peaks. These easy-to-make chocolate dipped meringues are a favorite of Food Network’s Tyler Florence and will be one of yours, too. Why not let the children help with these?

cancy caneCandy Cane Cookies. The whole family will have fun making these fun decorative cookies to hang on the tree, or just to enjoy them with a warm cup of cocoa while relaxing next by the fireplace.

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies. This luscious blend of pecans, white chocolate, and dried cranberries is sure to turn even the loudest “bah-humbug!” into “ho-ho-ho!”

Chocolate Bliss Macadamia Cookies. If your family and friends enjoy the heavenly flavor of chocolate and nuts, this is the cookie for them.

glass starStained Glass Stars. As beautiful as they are good to eat, these cut-out cookies are sure to astound both family and friends alike.

Swedish Christmas Cookies. This buttery ice-box cookie has the lemon-cardamom flavors also enjoyed by the Norwegians. A true European classic.

Paradise Macaroons. These cookies are gluten free, yet unbelievably scrumptious—so sweet and moist. A double batch of these may be the order of the day.

Cinnamon Stars are a classic German gluten-free cookie that is sort of a cross between a macaroon and a meringue, with a hint of spiciness.

Hanukkah_Sugar_CookiesHanukka Cookie is included in recognition of our friends of the Jewish faith. This rich butter and cream cheese cookie can be rolled out, cut into holiday shapes, and decorated in any number of ways. Hanukkah (or Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated this year from December 8 – 16. Hanukkah is observed by the lighting of the Menorah, one candle each night of the holiday.

There you have it–a baker’s dozen of some of our favorite Christmas cookie recipes. So happy baking, and may this season bring you and yours everything on your holiday gift list and much, much more.