It’s autumn, and up here in the Cascade foothills, it’s cold and raining. The weatherman recently cancelled El Nino and said we’d be going into a neutral winter, which means I need to get new tires. There’s no way I can get through a snow event with my current tread depth, a sad fact that made me buy ingredients for my favorite cold weather comfort food—gingerbread.
Gingerbread is an old sweet. The earliest forms were used in Egypt for ceremonial purposes. Later, as it traveled to Europe in the 15th century, it evolved into something very much like modern day rum balls—a molded confection of bread crumbs, spices and honey.
Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; (simmer a quart of honey and skim the foam) take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on (add some saffron and powdered pepper); take grayted Bred, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; (add enough grated bread to make a stiff paste) then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; (add some cinnamon) then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. (press it into a mold and let it dry a few hours)
The molds were deep, highly detailed and sometimes explicitly bawdy like the small 15th century earthenware molds currently at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Because honey is hygroscopic, early gingerbread needed to be thick to hold its shape. By 1650, the English had replaced bread crumbs with flour and baking molds reflected the ability to create thinner pieces.
In the late Regency, gingerbread molds had morphed into little more than cookie stamps—although the carving was still intricate.
Cookies ran the gamut from fancy lebkuchen style fruit and nut extravaganzas to simple, ginger-flavored drops.
Mix three pounds of flour with half a pound of butter, four ounces of brown sugar, half an ounce of pounded ginger; then make it into a paste with one pound and a quarter of treacle (golden syrup) warm.
Despite my interest in the history of gingerbread, I only make one kind. There’s something about the smell of candied fruit that makes me think of Christmas.
If you’d like to get your own copy of A New System of Domestic Cookery by A Lady (Maria Eliza Rundell, 1842) google play offers it as a free e-book.
In The Taming of Lady Honoria, the first book in my erotic serial regency, Honoria has nothing at all to do with cooking and very little to do with eating. One day, she swears--she'll eat a full meal, but until then, she'll continue to hope for prawn loaves when her mother throws a ball.
Lady Honoria Cavanaugh is as tempestuous as she is beautiful. When her spoiled demand for a new gown brings her to the attention of her old childhood friend, Robbie MacGregor, an erotic passion ignites. But who is Danton, and what does the enigmatic lord want? Two lusty men, a devoted maid, and a Beauty of Immense Fortune. Who said, "There can be only one?"