June 5th is National Gingerbread Day. But isn’t gingerbread a winter holiday food?
It became that way, only because the spices were so costly in medieval Europe, that most people only sprang for them to celebrate Christmas.
Because the spices are…well…spicy, i.e. heat-generating, they are also called warm spices, which became associated with the colder months.
But just as you can roast a turkey in July or have ice cream in December, most recipes work year-round (with an aside, to underscore the benefits of choosing fruits and vegetables seasonally).
Ginger-spiced cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods fit right in with warm weather. Serve them with ice cream or frozen yogurt, iced coffee or iced tea.
Or make muffins, scones, even gingerbread waffles. The recipes are below.
What we call ginger (Zingiber officinale), is the root of the ginger plant. It likely originated in the tropical lowland forests of the Indian subcontinent and southern Asia.
It has been cultivated for 5,000 years, made into a tonic to treat ailments*, as well as a spice for food. The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius celebrated its healing powers.
By the 1st century C.E., traders had brought ginger to the Mediterranean, and it became popular in the Roman Empire, where it was a symbol of wealth. The fresh roots were dried or preserved for the long voyage.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 C.E., ginger and other imported spices fell by the wayside during the Dark Ages. It returned with the resurgence of trade in medieval Europe. It was commonly used to make sweets; but again, you needed the bucks. In the 14th century a pound of ginger cost as much as a sheep!
Crusaders (11th-13th centuries) returning from the Middle East brought ginger and other spices. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Arabs traders brought the plant to Africa and Zanzibar.
In the 15th century, ginger was planted in the Caribbean, where it could more easily be brought to Europe. It was also planted in Africa. Today ginger is grown throughout the tropics.
*Among other things, the volatile oils in ginger, gingerols and shogaols, help with digestion, gas and cramping; relieve nausea; help to reduce inflammation and fever; help prevent blood clots; make ginger a natural decongestant and antihistamine and may also help lower LDL cholesterol.
GINGERBREAD & GINGERBREAD-FLAVORED RECIPES