Run, run, fast as you can,
You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!
While I was baking these, Rodney asked, "Why is gingerbread called gingerbread when it is not a bread at all?" Interesting question. And I have always wondered too, about the history behind the gingerbread man other than the fairy tales I grew up on.
On googling, I learned that originally “gingerbread” simply meant preserved ginger, the English word being related to the Old French gingebras – the last syllable of which became corrupted to become “bread”.
I had a Hungarian boss who used to give us gingerbread hearts every Christmas. In Hungary, traditional gingerbread hearts have been given as gifts for centuries. Did you know that the oldest gingerbread moulds found in Hungary were made more than two thousand years ago? That time, gingerbread cookies were made as gifts for the gods.
There are so many fascinating facts and stories surrounding the history and origin of gingerbread and below are just a few I've recently learnt.
- The crusaders are believed to have brought gingerbread to Britain in the Middle Ages. The first English recorded recipe for gingerbread was produced in 1390. It involved soaking breadcrumbs in honey and ginger.
- The first gingerbread men are said to have been created for the amusement of Queen Elizabeth I. They were moulded into the image of her favourite suitors and courtiers, decorated with gold leaf then devoured at royal feasts.
- By the early 17th century gingerbread men were selling like hot cakes at fairs across England. By 1614 Ben Jonson's play St Bartholomew's Fair featured a gingerbread seller.
- Gingerbread men were, however, soon taken up by witches, who used them like voodoo dolls. They would bake effigies of their enemies and eat them.
- Fear that gingerbread men were agents of the occult spread to the continent and in 1607 the magistrates of Delft in the Netherlands made it illegal to either bake or eat the biscuits.
- In the North East of England it was traditional for maidens to eat what were known locally as gingerbread husbands on Hallowe'en, to ensure they would snare a real husband.
- In the 1990s, a US computer giant was forced to ban a poster of a gingerbread man popular with its female employees. The caption read: 'The ideal man. He's sweet, he's quiet - and if he talks back, you can bite his head off.'