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.
I was going to thank you, Chris, for putting the try in artistry, but I don’t think that comment really works, because you didn’t only try to delight us with the artistry of this blog post, you succeeded.
I think it’s in the nature of every artist to keep trying and never feel like we’ve really succeeded, and I’m so grateful to you for reminding me of that because I’m sure it was the impulse to try something new that led to people using meat and cheese in place of gingerbread.
The little ones are fun, but the grocery store in Toronto where I used to shop always installed a real house-size one. It cost hundreds of dollars and was such a waste of food in a neighbourhood where there were so many homeless people. I used to wish they would forgo the house and give the money (or the gingerbread) to those who really needed it.
There does seem to be something wasteful about even small gingerbread houses, which I sometimes see get thrown in the trash, uneaten, but I’m also reminded of a local restaurant that, once a week, on Sundays, I think, would give away free food in its parking lot to anyone who needed or wanted it. It’s closed now but there are restaurants around, I know, that make a point of giving away leftover food from their kitchens to the homeless. That seems especially good at this time of year.
Chris, I just wanted to tell you that today is National Gingerbread House Day!
ANN J KOPLOW recently posted…Day 3268: There’s a place for us
Ah! I’ll have to do some deep and thorough research on gingerbread for that next year. After posting this I remembered that Baudelaire had high praise for gingerbread, writing to a friend, “I sincerely hope that you will not have taken the piece of gingerbread, encrusted with angelica, for an idle joke, and that you will have eaten it in all simplicity.”
The meat and cheese house would only work, Chris, if it was platter sized for a holiday gathering and guests were not only encouraged to eat it, but forced until it was gone to the crawl space toothpicks. I also like the image of walking the around the festively lighted neighborhood gnawing on a gingerbread house door the size of your head.
Wow I’ve never seen a gingerbread house that big!
Holly recently posted…Best Travel Toothbrush Complete Reviews with Comparisons