Saturday 30 December 2017

Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wightwick - Gingerbreadmen, women, angels and more...

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was spent, as appears to be traditional for me, either in a food-related stupor, or watching TV programmes about food (and often both). Now I have to admit to a certain amount of perplexity when watching some of these (seriously, how complicated can it be to roast a turkey?) but I did come across one real gem, and the inspiration for this month’s entry into the History Girls’ Cabinet of Curiosities. Naturally I can’t remember which programme it was on, so I can’t just point you in the direction of the telly and get back to lazing around – although that is probably no bad thing.

What caught my eye on TV was a demonstration of how gingerbread was made in the medieval and early modern period, and in particular showcased the variety of stunning moulds that were used to make it.

Gingerbread mould, C17th
Gingerbread mould, C17th

Not for our forebears a clumsy, vaguely humanoid shape with raisins for eyes and smarties for buttons: originally, gingerbread was beautiful, elaborate and, to top it all off, often gilded. Of course, as spices such as ginger were luxury items, gold just added to the bling effect…

It also seems to explain (although this is only my guess) why gingerbread is called bread, given that we think of as gingerbread is more of a cake or a biscuit: originally, recipes featured breadcrumbs rather than flour. Mixed with spices and wet ingredients, the mixture was then pressed into the elaborate moulds and left to dry next to the fire (not baked in an oven). Other recipes used almond paste to make white gingerbread.

More details (and recipes) can be found at or

Alternatively you could of course just watch rolling Christmas food telly for hours on end to find the right TV programme. It would be a sacrifice to historical research worth making!

Gingerbread mould of an angel from Aachen. All images from Wikimedia Commons

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