An Edible White House, and the Long History of Gingerbread

The history of gingerbread starts as early as the 11th century

One hundred and seventy five pounds of gingerbread, fifty pounds of chocolate and months of effort came together to produce this massively delectable version of the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, says the White House blog. The ornate gingerbread house joins some other fanciful creations, such as this tasty recreation of the Smithsonian Castle, a cookie version of Brooklyn and Caltech’s gumdrop-laden version of the Mars Curiosity rover.

The known history of gingerbread, says Amanda Bensen for Smithsonian‘s Food & Think blog, starts in the 11th century, when crusaders from the eastern Mediterranean brought the recipe to western Europe. Though “ts precise origin is murky,” says Bensen, “it is clear that ginger itself originates in Asia.”

Gingerbread was a favorite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe—often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or even armor—and several cities in France and England hosted regular “gingerbread fairs” for centuries. Ladies often gave their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck in a tournament, or superstitiously ate a “gingerbread husband” to improve their chances of landing the real thing.

For a long time, says Bensen, gingerbread was used to refer to any preserved ginger product. Only in the 15th century did it it come to be “associated with ginger-flavored cakes.”

But what of the humble gingerbread house? Bensen:

As far as I can tell, Germans also invented the concept of making gingerbread houses, probably inspired by the witch’s candy cottage in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

More from
A Brief History of Gingerbread

White House Time-Lapse: The 2012 Gingerbread Dough White House

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.