The Not So Holly Jolly History of Gingerbread

According to culinary historian Tori Avey, the earliest gingerbread recipes can be traced back to 2400 B.C. The hardened cookies we think of today, however, didn’t come about until the Middle Ages in Europe, when gingerbread cookies became a staple of local fairs. Gingerbread cookies tended to change shape depending on the season; birds were common in the fall, for example, as were flowers in the spring. But the cookies were also often shaped like animals or royalty, and it wasn’t uncommon for nobility to dress their cookies up with gold leaf in addition to icing. Queen Elizabeth I is usually cited as the first to make what we might recognize as a gingerbread man. Legend has it that when foreign dignitaries came to visit her, she had some cookies decorated to resemble her guests. Rather than being associated with Christmas, gingerbread cookies were largely synonymous with wealth and prosperity; the cookie’s decoration was more highlighted than the season in which it was served. […]