I’ve never understood the tradition of gingerbread houses. I do get the idea that it’s kind of fun to take food and construct something out of it—gingerbread houses are an acceptable way to play with your food—but I’ve never found out if or when you get to eat the gingerbread house. When I was a kid I’d see them around at school and other places, and sometimes in people’s houses, but if there was a time when they were eaten I never got to be around for it. And after a while I’m sure the gingerbread and frosting and probably some of the candy got stale and who cares? It was gingerbread and frosting and candy and I would have been happy to eat it no matter how stale it was just to get that sweet sugar rush.
This year, though, the trend is to eschew the sugar in favor of little houses made of meats and cheeses and vegetables. And I get it: it’s putting the cute in charcuterie. I also don’t get it. At least a gingerbread house will hold up pretty well for a week or two, but if you build a domicile out of cheddar and shingle it with salami it’s not going to last, especially if you keep it in the warm house. Even if you use a cracker or bread base the oils from the meat and dairy façade are going to make the whole thing a soggy mess within a day at most. And if you have a pet then surely I don’t have to spell out the dangers of having a cat or even a dog and a carefully crafted plate of meat and cheese is going to be extremely inviting. And it may be just as well to lose it that way because a meat and cheese home is going to be edible, at best, for a day or two.
The history of gingerbread baking in Europe dates from the 11th century when crusaders brought ginger back with them, and in the 17th century its production was even strictly controlled by guilds, except at Easter and Christmas when anyone was allowed to bake gingerbread, making it a special holiday treat. The gingerbread house that Hansel and Gretel find in the woods either inspired the tradition of making gingerbread houses or was inspired by it. Either way it’s a pretty old tradition, but do you know what’s not an old tradition? Building little homes out of cheese and meat and there’s a good reason for that.