You better watch out, you better not cry, because it is the season to make merry and indulge. Another year has come to an end and everything around is so pretty and X-massy. We know, it wasn’t really the best year for most of us, and we had to stay indoors for a significant part of the year, yet again. But that is the best part about festivals, it doesn’t require you to be out and about all the time. Even in an intimate celebration, you can make memories for a lifetime. Christmas is easily one of the most widely celebrated festivals celebrated across the world with much fervour. There are innumerable rituals and traditions associated with the festival too, we are particularly biased to the foodie ones. Now, we know a lot about the Plum cakes of Christmas, how many of us know enough about the Gingerbread cookies, man and home? Yes, the same baked goods are often decorated with icing. They are brown in colour and firm, which makes the white icing stand out, adding to the festive feel. But when did it become so relevant to the holiday and winter, as such?

To trace the popularity of gingerbread, we need to first understand the arrival of ginger in Europe. Baked goods with gingerbread were very popular among ancient Greek and even Egyptians. However, it was only in the 11th century that it made an entry into Europe via the middle-east. Soon the cooks of the aristocrats had a new raw material to work with, and eventually, gingerbread delights also found their way to ceremonial occasions.

In the olden days, gingerbread would be made with almonds, stale breadcrumbs, sugar and the iconic winter spice-ginger. It will be blended together in a paste and pressed in wooden molds to give a flat, smooth surface. Experts would carve shapes and motifs related to kings, queens and topical events. These cookie-like treats would be decorated with white icing or gold paint.

Somewhere in the 16th century, the breadcrumbs gave way to flour, eggs and sweeteners were added too to make the cookies more durable and lighter. The gingerbread cookies were a hit in the Royal kitchen too, it is said the first gingerbread man was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth 1. Ever since then, gingerbread cookies with pretty designs, ribbon bows became commonplace in fairs, carnivals and festivals.  

Now, gingerbread, like any baked good also has many versions and accents. It is often flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise etc. There are also ‘healthier’ versions of the cookie sweetened with honey and alternative sweeteners like brown sugar.  

And what about the gingerbread house? When did that come into being? Its popularity may have a lot to do with the rage of Hansel and Gretel, a fairy tale published in the 19th century Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale collection. In Germany, making gingerbread houses became a sweet family tradition, a tradition that was also brought over to the Americas and some parts of Europe.  

While gingerbread was already a Holiday sensation across America by the 20th century. The first official Gingerbread House at the White House was created in 1969 for Pat Nixon, by his German, assistant Executive chef Hans Raffert. He modelled the house as a tribute to his German roots, often evoking the Hansel and Gretel themed motifs, it would have a typical A-Frame cottage, with a roof decorated with lovely white icing. Over the years, the gingerbread house at The White House has become an object of fancy for the common public, it has seen many minute and radical changes during all these years.  

Gingerbread house, whether made at home or the White House, is synonymous to all things festive and harmonious. Hope you have a delightful holiday.

Merry Christmas, everyone.