Hi all, and welcome to the first post for The Historical Vegan! For today’s recipe I will be taking a look at a gingerbread recipe from the “English Cookery and Medicine Book”, estimated to have been published between 1677-1711. A scan of the book can be found on the Folger Shakespeare's Library's website.
The original recipe:
Take one peck of flower, a quarter of a pound of ginger, a pound of Carraway seeds, once ounce of Coriander seeds. Bruise the seeds. Tenn eggs, tenn pound of treacle, one pound of orange, one pound of cittern. Bake them in a slow oven.
Well that’s…massive! A peck of flour is approximately 6kg. There are only two of us in the house, and I don’t think we can eat that much, so I reduced this recipe to use 500g. This still made over 30 cookies using a 6cm diameter cookie cutter. I think we are going to be eating this for a while…
Time estimate: 10 minutes prep, 12- 15 minutes baking.
The updated recipe:
500g of plain flour
2 tablespoons of ground ginger
2 tablespoons of crystallised ginger
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
100g of candied orange and lemon (see my page for that recipe as well) (add more if you want it sweeter)
140g of apple sauce (to replace the egg)
286g of treacle (yes, that is A LOT of treacle. If you want a less savoury gingerbread, I would suggest halving the amount of treacle and using golden syrup for the other half)
Credit where credit is due, the idea of using candied fruit and ginger came from Marissa Nicosia’s “Cooking in the Archives”. I would definitely recommend using it to help balance out the treacle!
1) Pre-heat your oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
2) Bruise the seeds: In a pestle and mortar, gently apply pressure t0 the seeds. Do not crush them into a fine powder but grind them enough to release the smell of them.
3) Put all of your ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix until they form a sticky dough. Because of the amount of treacle in this it will be a VERY sticky dough.
4) On a floured surface (perhaps less flour than I added), roll out the dough until it is about half a cm thick. Cut out your biscuits into whatever shapes you want and bake them for around 12-15 minutes. I went for a fluted cookie cutter (6cm diameter), although I couldn’t resist doing a few Halloween cookies as well.
5) Cool on a cooling rack.
You now have some beautiful dark brown gingerbread cookies!
It’s a pretty simple recipe overall, and the method hasn’t changed too much over the years. The treacle is certainly a very powerful flavour in this, so next time I would increase the amount of candied fruits, as those really are the best bits of this! These are also very soft and chewy, not at all like the snappy types that would be used for gingerbread men today.
In the example above I didn’t include any icing or other decorations that would normally be seen on this type of gingerbread, but the art of decorating gingerbread has been around for centuries. In fact, many cities across England and other parts of Europe would host “gingerbread fairs”, where one could buy shaped and decorated gingerbreads to suit the season (so I guess Halloween shaped cookies are more relevant here than I initially thought) – flowers, angels, and wreaths are amongst the more common shapes you would find. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has some wonderful examples of gingerbread moulds that you can find on their website. These moulds were made to help decorate gingerbread by impressing a pattern onto it or by baking the gingerbread in it.
Among the shaped gingerbreads, you could often find gingerbread men, which were said to help single women find a husband if they ate them (if anyone knows how then please let me know, because…what?) and were apparently the idea of Queen Elizabeth I who had gingerbread shaped to resemble visiting dignitaries, which they were apparently very pleased by (although I think I would have been a bit intimidated if the queen was munching on my little cookie head).
And that’s the recipe! If you have any other fun facts about gingerbread, or if you attempt to make this yourself then comment below.