Exploring The Flavors of Christmas--Ginger
Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread— William Shakespeare
Merchants and Monarchs, Sages and Sheep
The story of this beautiful fragrant flowering plant, a luxurious tuberous perennial that spreads her fleshy roots underground to expand and propagate, begins as many of our tales about treasured herbs and spices--deep within the heart of India.
It is there that anthropologists have found remnants, tiny fragments of ginger root used 5,000 years ago; in the beginning, long before the written word, long before Man began to record his own history.
“Do not eat too much. Do not talk at meals. Do not take away the ginger.”— Confucius
We know that ginger also grew in China; wise men in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Indian systems viewed it as a healing gift from God. We also know that, from its origin to the present, ginger has been the world’s most widely cultivated herb.
Historians believe that by the 5th century, ginger was being transported in trade ships to what was then the far reaches of the Earth—Rome--where it was used both as a medicine and a flavoring agent. Ginger became a highly valued trade commodity. However, with the decline of the Roman Empire, this precious (and costly) herb almost fell from existence in Europe. Arab merchants stepped in and began to control the export of ginger from India, and they developed a new market in Africa where ginger proved to be a treatment for malaria and yellow fever.
Today ginger can be found anywhere, and for just a few dollars, but in the 13th century ginger was so highly valued that one pound cost the same as a whole live sheep.
OK, So What about the Monarch?
By medieval times ginger was being preserved and imported to England for use in sweets. A common use was “gingerbread.”
However, the gingerbread of that time bears little resemblance to the cake- or cookie-like treats that we enjoy today. It was more of a honey candy. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I of England originated the idea of forming gingerbread into the likeness of visiting dignitaries. The following recipe is from a 15th century English manuscript:
"Gyngerbrede.--Take a quart of hony, & sethe it,& skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take grayted Bred, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now."
A rough translation (and a recipe that you can use today) is:
- 1 cup honey
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 ¾ cups finely ground, dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
- Place honey in the top of a double boiler and heat to simmering. Stir in spices and bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
- Spread the breadcrumb-honey mixture onto the prepared pan and pat to about ½-inch thickness. Turn the pan over onto a clean work surface. Remove the parchment paper, and cut the gingerbread into small squares or diamond shapes. Decorate as desired (a piece of candy place on top of each piece or a dusting of powdered sugar is nice).
In the 16th century, the English replaced the breadcrumbs with flour, and added eggs and sweeteners, resulting in a lighter product. Much more like the gingerbread cookies we know and love today.
A wonderful recipe for today's gingerbread cookies was recently posted by the Food Network:
a gingerbread cookie recipe for today
- Gingerbread Cookies 101 Recipe : Food Network
Get this lesson on Gingerbread Cookies 101 from Food Network. Make sure to chill the dough for these holiday treats for at least three hours.
The Many Forms of Ginger
- Fresh (to be sliced, shredded, or pulverized)
But Wait, There's More!
Today ginger can be enjoyed (and used) is so many ways. While it is still relevant as a tonic, ginger is an aromatic, pungent, and spicy herb that lends a special flavor and zest to so many dishes—beverages, stir fries, desserts, and numerous fruit and vegetable dishes.
Please let me share a few recipes with you.
More Carb Diva Ginger Recipes
- Orange Ginger Prawns grilled to perfection with a sweet savory sauce
Succulent prawns coated with a sweet-savory sauce of ginger, orange juice, and orange marmalade
- Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaf
An easy to make quick bread with the sweet flavor of pumpkin and the warmth of ginger. Enjoy a warm slice with butter for a comforting breakfast or top with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
What is Ginger?
Ginger is a rhizome (plant that spreads via underground stems—think iris, asparagus, bamboo) in the same family that includes cardamom and turmeric.
Ginger can be grown indoors as a houseplant. In the landscape ginger requires moist, fertile, well-drained soil, and a shady area in USDA climate zones 9 through 12. In cooler climates it can be grown as an annual after the threat of frost has passed, and nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Comforting Hot Tea
- Home Made Ginger Tea - A Pretty Life In The Suburbs
Home Made Ginger Tea. A delicious (and healthy) tea made with fresh ginger, lemon juice, honey, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
A Savory Soup
- Carrot Ginger Soup | Emerils.com
The ginger in this soup gives it a nice little kick and it can be served either hot or cold, depending on the season.
A Main Dish with Pork
Gingered Pork Tenderloin with Peanut Sauce
- 1 pound pork tenderloin
- 1 3-ounce package Ramen noodles, uncooked
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- red pepper flakes (a pinch to 1/2 teaspoon (according to your heat preference)
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
- 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2 cups fresh spinach, torn, washed, and drained
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions
- Cut tenderloin into 1/4-inch thick slices, and then cut each slice in half.
- Cook noodles according to package directions, drain and reserve cooking water.
- Heat oil in large skillet over high heat; add pork, pepper flakes, and ginger.
- Cook and stir until pork is no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pork from pan and keep warm.
- Blend peanut butter, 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, and soy sauce; Pour into skillet; heat and stir over medium heat until heated. Add more cooking water if needed.
- Return pork to pan along with noodles and spinach. Toss to coat with sauce. Serve garnished with green onions.
- Makes 4 servings.
A Marmalade for Toast or as a Chutney
- Actually Easy Lemon Ginger Marmalade | Wendolonia
Step by step instructions to make this delicious and easy lemon ginger marmalade.
How About a Cranberry Sauce for the Holidays?
Growing Ginger at Home
- Harvesting Potted Ginger
and how to grow it in a pot.
A Vegetarian Side Dish
Or a Main Dish Salad
© 2015 Linda Lum