This week I had a wondrous day. It was a day that I had all to myself. A rare event indeed! I explored stores and treated myself to lunch and watched the world pass by as I ate al fresco on a beautiful autumn day. Even on my “Me” day, my thoughts still drifted off to my little one at school. Things that I perused in the store that caught my eye would remind me of her. Upon entering a store that sells items from all corners of the world, I ran across something that would appeal to my young decorator of possibly the world’s first Hello Kitty ninja cookie. It was a Ninjabread Cookie Kit. Absolutely priceless!
I am familiar with the old story of the freshly baked little gingerbread boy that comes to life and runs away only to be eaten by a fox. There is a more gently portrayed rendition of the story performed by the Birmingham Children’s Theatre where the gingerbread boy only loses a hand. Perhaps he ends up a prosthetic… Either way, the rather tame gingerbread character portrayal that I grew up with was turned on its ear with the break out character “Gingy” in the Shrek movie series, a mostly fearless and vain little fellow. Don’t mess with his gum drop buttons!
Let’s look into the history of this sweet delight that has inspired so many creative minds. Although ginger comes from Asia, the earliest form of gingerbread is believed to have originated with the ancient Egyptians and Greeks who used it for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. In the 11th century, crusaders brought back this spice; however, it was only available to the very wealthy. As with chocolate, when ginger became more available and less expensive, it caught on throughout Europe.
An early European gingerbread recipe was comprised of ginger, ground almonds, rose water, honey and stale breadcrumbs. The English modified the recipe by adding eggs, and substituting flour for the breadcrumbs and eventually treacle (molasses) for honey.
Good Queen Bess (Elizabeth I) in the late 16th century was given credit for having inspired the creation the very first gingerbread man. She had foreign dignitaries presented with their portrait in gingerbread. I wonder if she was also sending another message, do things my way or this could be your actual head…
Gingerbread became a way of life from novelty dessert, medicinal cure, a source of good juju and love life cure all. Are you a fan of extreme jousting? Give your favorite knight gingerbread for luck. Having trouble finding a husband? Eat a gingerbread man on All Hallows’ Eve and your future is secure. Gingerbread boys and girls were offered exchanged very much like a Valentine in Eastern Europe.
Gingerbread became very popular in colonial North America as ginger was introduced and grown in Jamaica and Haiti. George Washington’s mother showed her patriotism through baking gingerbread cookies. Prior to the American Revolution she baked miniature gingerbread kings which were replaced by eagles after American Independence.
Wikipedia has a nice write up as to the global popularity of gingerbread and its variations. I encourage you to check it out. I, on the other hand, will be returning to the store to buy the Ninjabread Cookie Kit knowing that there is some educational and historic value in such a kitschy cookie.