Gingerbread houses are a fun, wintery decoration. Yet, they are also a fascinating bit of food craft, architecture, artistry, history, and literary tradition.
In the 1500s–in what’s now Germany–the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel featured an edible house. The story may have come first, or the gingerbread houses may have been an inspiration for the story. But, the story and the making of gingerbread houses seem to be linked.
Gingerbread dates back thousands of years ago. The ginger root was grown in China. But, a couple thousand years before Christ was born, the Greeks were using ginger to make gingerbread. This would have been a hard-style of gingerbread they used in religious ceremonies.
By the 11th Century, Europeans were making gingerbread shaped like people, animals, flowers, etc. Gingerbread was a festival food. In fact, some of the festivals were called gingerbread fairs.
Americans have adopted the hard-type of gingerbread for cookies and houses, but Americans also historically had a cake-like version of gingerbread. Both George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, and Laura Ingalls Wilder were known for their cake-like gingerbread.
But why are the houses a winter tradition? I’m not sure, except of course, the frosting looks like snow, and the candies and gingerbread epitomize the sweets we eat at Christmas.
There is one other reason of a very practical nature alluded to in the book, The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chairman. The hard gingerbread stays hard in the dryer air of winter and furnaces (in the northern hemisphere). In a humid environment, the gingerbread would soften, and the houses wouldn’t be able to hold their shapes.
Sources and more info:
Do you like to eat gingerbread? Have you ever made gingerbread people and/or houses? What other literary and/or historical links are there to gingerbread houses?
There is an expression that says something to the effect that we take things in our own backyard for granted. That’s often true.
I’ve lived in Sioux Falls for nearly seven years and just visited the Japanese Gardens at Terrace Park for the first time last month. However, I was able to visit twice–a couple weeks apart, so I was took photos of spring’s arrival at two different stages.
Same scenery–Mid-April vs. Late April:
In the late 1920s, Joseph Maddox, the caretaker of Terrace Park, began constructing and planting the Japanese Gardens. But, during World War II, the gardens were vandalized. Then in the late 1980s, the local Shoto Teien Japanese Garden group formed and made it its mission to help the city restore and renovate the gardens.
I found the gardens to be a pretty and serene place.
For more info on the gardens:
Have any of you been to the Sioux Falls Japanese Gardens? What is some local treasure you’ve recently discovered or want to visit?
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the history of roller coasters, and I learned their origin dates back about 400 years ago to ice slides in Russia. About that same time I wrote that post, in a moment of serendipity, I ran across a historical marker in my city of Sioux Falls, SD, that marked the spot of a giant wood slide!
The Big Slide was located at the top of a hill in Sherman Park from approximately 1913-1920. Just over 100 years ago, Edwin A. Sherman, an early businessman and civic leader in Sioux Falls, donated about 50 acres west of the city for a park. Sherman devoted much of the rest of his life to developing parks in both the city and the state.
The park became a popular place for swimming in the Big Sioux River. But, another of the amenities of the park was a wood slide almost 300 feet long, beginning at the top of a steep hill. Near the bottom of the hill, the slide continued over a road, but high enough horses and buggies could go under it. Imagine the fright the horse felt when a screaming person slid above it?
The slide was lined with tin, and riders would sit on waxed paper to go faster, or a piece of old carpet or burlap to protect them from the heat of the tin. However, the slide had a short life before it was deemed dangerous and dismantled.
For anyone interested in looking for the marker, it is next to a short rock wall that has a bench built into it. In addition, there are a few Native American Indian Burial Mounds close by.
Check out the Sioux Falls website for more info about Sherman Park’s history.
I had another serendipitous find while researching The Big Slide. The Center for Western Studies at Augustana College in Sioux Falls has a wonderful library! I will be spending more time there!
Have you heard of the Big Slide? Do you know any family stories about the slide? Do you know the purpose of the rock wall/bench? Was it a waiting area for slide riders, or perhaps seating for small concerts, etc.? Would you ride a 300-foot wood slide?