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"An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy

ginger-bread" Shakespeare

Following on from my Christmas hamper idea I sent out emails asking about everyone's secret guilty pleasures, and to my surprise my two older grandsons' mother told me that they liked gingerbread. Which gave me pause for thought. Now I can certainly make gingerbread, but I am hopeless at decorating gingerbread shapes with piped icing sugar.

What to do? I searched for simple ideas, but none of them were that simple. I do have a collection of various cookie cutter shapes, so that's a start, and I even think I may still have a piping bag and some of the metal nozzles. But I really don't think that I can use them. Obviously even the most basic sources - the supermarket magazines and seem to assume that any mother worth her salt can decorate cakes and gingerbread men with no problems at all. Indeed there are a lot of things to help you on the shelves in the supermarket, but none of those things are any use unless you have something for them to stick to. So perhaps I could ice the whole shape and then throw on a whole lot of decorations. I shall have to investigate the supermarket shelves.

I'm not quite sure when gingerbread became such a Christmassy thing, but I did look into their history a bit. For starters what do you mean by gingerbread? As Felicity Cloake states about England:

"Gingerbread has a confused identity in this country, referring, as it does, simultaneously to moist cakes, crumbly bars, and a whole army of spicy biscuit men."

She is sort of right although I don't think the Australians go in for the cake part of it quite as much It's more cookies and gingernut biscuits I think.

Gingerbread has been around for a very long time in one form or another - well ginger has always been highly regarded medicinally, and mixed with honey - which it originally was - that was a double whammy of health because honey is medicine too.

They now think that gingerbread was brought into Europe by a particular monk - one Saint Gregory of Nicopolis. He was Armenian and Nicopolis was in Greece. But then he moved to France and taught the monks there how to make it. There is also a story that it was brought back to Europe by crusaders. One source said that the first written recipe was in 1390 - another had a date a century later.

It is certainly true that gingerbread men, cakes and cookies were made and sold at fairs throughout medieval times. These would have been much simpler than today's version though - simply honey mixed with breadcrumbs and spices that included ginger. Felicity Cloake gave it a try and said:

"The gingerbread men have turned rather auburn, and the result reminds me of a honey-flavoured flapjack. Tasty, but not ideal for hanging on the tree."

And I have to say they look a bit crumbly.

The next reference I found was to the court of Elizabeth I.

"it's said that Elizabeth I's baker made the first gingerbread man - he created gingerbread likenesses of her favourite courtiers, her very own spice boys, lavishly decorated with gold leaf. How much more thrilling than being feted in Hello!"

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was not the only one to mention that story, so it's probably true. Then there's Market Drayton in Shropshire which claims to have been the first to make gingerbread - patently not true, although maybe one of the first to make them commercially - back in 1793. They still claim to be the place that invented gingerbread. Well if you've got something you can hang a tourist hook on to then go for it.

Nowadays though gingerbread seems to be a Christmas thing, although I don't know about hanging them on the tree.

"Tis the season to be gingerbread! The sweet-and-spicy treat flavored by a lumpy little root is a ubiquitous celebrity in fall and winter, starring in everything from cute cookies and overpriced lattes to edible construction projects. You can even buy gingerbread-scented mascara or dog shampoo, if you really can't get enough of the stuff."

Amanda Fiegl - Smithsonian Magazine

The gingerbread houses, I have to say are quite beyond my capabilities - I mean look at this one! Last month's Coles Magazine had a step by step cheat version - the core was fruit cake with gingerbread slabs on the outside were the gingerbread.

Still - beyond what I can do. So what to do because obviously I'm going to have to give it a go. I might have to drag out my icing equipment and actually try. At least gingerbread doesn't go off.



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