Gingerbread House History
Decorating a gingerbread house is a popular family tradition in America. Gingerbread houses are loved by both parents and kids alike. What you probably didn’t know is that this tradition is over 1,000 years old!
So what’s gingerbread? According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, “Gingerbread generally refers to one of two desserts. It can be a dense, ginger-spiced cookie flavored with molasses or honey and cut into fanciful shapes (such as the popular gingerbread man). Or, particularly in the United States, it can describe a dark, moist cake flavored with molasses, ginger and other spices.”
Fascinating! Now, nobody knows about the exact origin of the gingerbread house, but here’s what we do know. Gingerbread was probably introduced to Europe by an Armenian monk in the 10th century. Apparently, he taught the art of baking gingerbread to Christian priests in France.
The Gingerbread Man has his origins in England. The English claim to be the first to bake and sell gingerbread, and they introduced the idea of the Gingerbread Man. Gingerbread was a much-loved treat in festivals and fairs in medieval Europe. It was shaped and decorated to look like many attractive things – birds, animals, flowers and armor. Gingerbread fairs were universally popular in those days.
Indeed, the young ladies of those days offered their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread to wish them luck in a competition. There was also a tradition of young women eating a “gingerbread husband” secretly hoping to find someone really special.
What’s interesting is that the word “gingerbread” has come to mean different things over the centuries. Any kind of preserved ginger was called gingerbread in medieval England. The French used the term “gingebras” for gingerbread, which was derived from the Latin word “zinzebar.” It was only in the 15th century that gingerbread was associated with ginger-flavored cakes.
Gingerbread was even considered to be a medicine used to cure stomach cramps. As one 16th century writer by the name of John Baret wrote, “A Kinde of cake or paste made to comfort the stomacke.”
In fact, gingerbread was so popular that even The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, wrote about it in a play – “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread…”
The Germans would tell you that they invented the concept of making gingerbread houses. There is a lot of truth to that. Gingerbread cookies are popularly called “Lebkuchen” in Germany. They have been a part of German culture since the 15th century.
It is usual to see gingerbread sold at street fairs shaped as hearts frosted with cute messages such as “I Love You!”, “All I Need Is You!” and “You Are Awesome” in German. It’s likely that the German gingerbread houses were inspired by the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm, in which there’s a witch with a candy cottage.
Gingerbread was prepared in a majority of monasteries, churches and other religious institutions in Europe. The Swedish nuns, for instance, used to bake them and even sold them to the public to raise money for charity. Gingerbread was also available for sale in pharmacies and farmers’ markets.
But it was when gingerbread made its way to England that it became really popular. The English started the tradition of painting gingerbread and displaying it on shop windows. It was in England that decorating the gingerbread house became a holiday tradition for the whole family.
In the United States, we have been baking gingerbread for over 200 years. Indeed, George Washington’s mother has written one of the most popular gingerbread recipes! Gingerbread house was first brought to America by German settlers and since then has become a quintessentially American tradition and a favorite with kids through generations.
Gingerbread Traditions, based in Oregon, delivers the most delicious gourmet gingerbread kits, shipped direct to you. Gingerbread house kits make exciting and creative gifts for friends and family members of any age. Buy your own gingerbread kits online today!