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2001 - Then-Assemblyman George Runner introduces legislation to memorialize the historic Ridge Route. Enacted Oct. 4. [story]


Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Dec 20, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelGingerbread houses, so common to see in America during the Christmas season, were made originally in Germany in the early 1800s. These houses were first described in Grimm’s fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. In the story, these two children, alone in the forest, left bread crumbs in the path along the way so they could find their way home. But alas, the crumbs were eaten by birds, and Hansel and Gretel wandered through the woods until they came upon a witch’s house, made of gingerbread and decorated with candy – any child’s dream. Hansel and Gretel were so hungry, they began to eat the house until they were caught and caged by the wicked witch.

After this fairy tale was published, European bakers baked Lebkuchen (gingerbread). These houses, as well as gingerbread boys and girls, hearts and other shapes, became popular treats at Christmas and Easter.

The tradition came to America along with Germans who immigrated to the United States. (The English tell us they brought the treat to America.) This is still a popular tradition in both the European Union and America. In fact, gingerbread houses big enough to walk into are often seen at large hotels and other sites in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles throughout the Christmas holiday season.

gingerbread00 According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest gingerbread house was built in 2013 in Bryan, Texas. It was 2,520 square feet and was made of 2,925 pounds of brown sugar, 1,800 pounds of butter, 7,200 eggs, 1,080 ounces of ground ginger and 7,200 pounds of all-purpose flour. This conglomerate produced 4,000 gingerbread bricks that were used to construct this magnificent house. Incidentally, a building permit was actually required for the construction.

A chef in New York made the largest village, which included 135 homes, 22 commercial buildings, cable cars and a train.

When making gingerbread buildings, you can be as creative and expansive as you wish.

Every Christmas season, I make gingerbread houses. Each year they are different in size and design. This year I’ve baked five houses so far and assembled two. They will all be gifted on the 25th. All are edible, but most of my recipients tend to keep them and display them year after year.

To generations of cooks in my family, one of the biggest symbols of Christmas was the gingerbread house centerpiece. The more fanciful it was, the better the times.

My grandmother always baked gingerbread, adding piles of candies and other confections. She would often bake little gingerbread hearts and decorate the house with those, and gingerbread boys and girls playing outside. I couldn’t wait to see her creations year after year.

gingerbread08My mother baked gingerbread houses that were more delicate and highly decorated with little sugar hearts, usually dyed pink, which was my favorite color when I was little. She made clear windows from boiled sugar water that she would decorate with lattice work, embed in a window opening, and surround with lattice – 3D shutters. She would also put a light inside the house to shine through the windows. It was always a work worthy of a fairy tale.

Ginger, the root, arrived in Europe during the middle ages via the Silk Road. It was used in China for medicinal purposes and then in Europe to ward off the plague. Soon it became known for its wonderful and unusual taste and was added to bread and cookies. Then, treacle (similar to molasses) was added, along with honey and butter, and gingerbread was born.

No one in Europe can agree on who came up with the idea first. The Greeks claim they invented gingerbread in 2400 B.C., the Chinese claim responsibility in the 10th century A.D., and the Germans claim fame to gingerbread houses in the 16th Century. The English claim they were the first actually to decorate gingerbread. They even had gingerbread fairs and festivals throughout England.

To speed you on your way to your own gingerbread home, here is a recipe for gingerbread that you can bake for use in your own gingerbread house:

 

gingerbread000Gingerbread

Ingredients

* ¾ cup unsulfured molasses

* ¾ cup butter

* ¾ cup dark brown sugar

* 4 ½ cups flour, plus more for rolling surface

* 1 tsp baking powder

* 1 tsp salt

* ½ tsp baking soda

* 3 ½ tsp ground ginger

* 2 tsp cinnamon

* 1 egg, lightly beaten

* Royal icing for assembling house and attaching decorations

* Sprinkles, candies, other decorations

 

gingerbread04Directions

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the molasses to the simmering point. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Stir in the brown sugar. Allow to cool.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger and cinnamon. Add the cooled molasses and the egg to the flour mixture and mix very well until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands to really incorporate the wet mixture into the dry mixture.

3. Wrap dough in wax or parchment paper and chill for 1-2 hours, or until firm enough to roll. Roll out on a well-floured surface, cut out 2 sides, 2 roof pieces, a front and a back. (Make your patterns from cardboard first to make sure they will fit together properly).

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Transfer cut dough to a baking sheet that has been lightly greased with nonstick cooking spray or lined with a silicone baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. The cookies will puff up but won’t spread much.

6. Cool completely on a rack before decorating with royal icing, decorative sprinkles and candies. Assemble the front, back and sides first. Let this dry completely before attempting to attach the roof. When you attach the roof, support it with cans, drinking glasses or other objects (depending upon the height you need) until it is dry.

7. Make your royal icing, and attach all the wonderful decorations, candies, etc., that your little heart desires.

8. After the season, you can gently wrap your house to save for another season, or enjoy eating it, and look forward to creating another one next year.

Have fun. And have a very Merry Christmas.

 

Run, run, fast as you can
You can’t catch me,
I’m the gingerbread man.

– The Gingerbread Man, a fairy tale

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

gingerbread06gingerbread05

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