Gingerbread House Day: A brief history of their ‘dark’ origin

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(NEWS10) — It’s officially the holiday season. A time for decking the halls, singing carols, giving and receiving gifts, and of course, baking gingerbread houses complete with intricately stenciled roof designs, gumdrop sidewalks, and candy cane fence posts. But where did the ubiquitous, delicious, three dimensional holiday construction originate?

While the precise origins of the delicious treat we know today as gingerbread are difficult to pin down, it’s clear ginger itself came from Asia. Ginger has been used for centuries as a remedy for nausea and other stomach ailments.

According to PBS’ ‘The History Kitchen,’ the term “gingerbread” dates to Medieval Europe where it simply meant “preserved ginger”. It wouldn’t come to be associated with the cookies and breads we know today until the 15th century.

The first recipes for gingerbread can be traced all the way back to Greece in 2400 BC, then China in the 10th century and finally, the late Middle Ages, when Europeans developed their own recipe.

Queen Elizabeth I herself is credited with creating the elaborate decorative icing style still associated with gingerbread cookies. Gingerbread cookies, similar to the cookies we know today, were a staple of year-round “gingerbread fairs” where cookies were decorated to look like animals, kings, queens, and flowers, according to PBS.

The popularity of using gingerbread to construct elaborate candy-coated houses is commonly traced back to the famous Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel. In the story, siblings Hansel and Gretel become lost in the woods and eventually stumble upon a sinister, cannibalistic old witch who lives in a house made of cake, cookies, and candy. Though it is difficult to say which came first, the tale or the gingerbread house.

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