1½ Cup Dark Molasses
1 Cup packed Brown Sugar
2/3 Cup Cold Water
1/3 Cup Shortening
7 Cups Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
! Teaspoon Cloves
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
*Decorator's Frosting

Mix molasses, brown sugar, water and shortening. Mix in remaining ingredients, except frosting. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

Heat oven to 350º. Roll dough ¼ inch thick on floured board.(I sugar my board and rolling pin for extra sweetness) Cut with floured gingerbread cutter. Place about 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheet.

Decorate: some options would be

Currants for eyes Strips of candied cherries for smiles Red Hot Cinnamon Candies for buttons Bake until no indentation remains when touched, 10 -12 minutes; cool. To make holes for hanging, pierce the top of each cookie with a skewer as soon as it comes out of the oven.

*Decorator's Frosting

Mix 2½ Cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract and 2-3 Tablespoons cold water-just enough to make a frosting that can be used easily in a decorators' tube or envelope cone and yet still hold it's shape. Divide into small cups and color with assorted food colors as you wish. When the cookies are cold, pipe out designs, such as smiling faces, zigzags, bow ties, and aprons. If using different colors of icing, let one color dry before piping the next. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Do not freeze, as the icing could crack.

A Brief History

Gingerbread People were most popular during the Victorian era and were used to decorate Christmas Trees and, early in their history, gingerbread men wore bishops' robes. Queen Elizabeth I had her bakers make cookies in the shape and form of her favorite Courtiers and Ladies. She gave them at Christmas time as gifts to show her appreciation making them with ginger since it was a precious commodity at the time.

The first-known recipe for gingerbread dates back to Ancient Rome in Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, the oldest known cookbook. Ginger was so taxed.

Ginger disappeared in Europe after the Fall of Rome, and did not reappear until Marco Polo brought it back from China, circa 1295. “One Venetian goat,” recorded Marco Polo,” will buy 40 pounds of fresh ginger of excellent quality.” This seems to support reports that ginger spread throughout Western Europe at the end of the 11th Century, apparently by the returning Crusaders.

In the Middle Ages, young ladies decorated hearty gingerbreads with garnishes made of real gold to give to knights before jousting tournaments. And gingerbread came to figure so prominently in fairs that many became known as Gingerbread Fairs. Some villages even had a tradition that required unmarried women to eat gingerbread husbands at the fair if they were to stand a chance of meeting a real husband.

In 1430, gingerbread was mentioned in an English cookbook. In 1573, it appeared in a diary -- an entry that indicates the recipient had a hangover, because it was given to soothe his stomach. It was given in the form of a paste made with ginger and flour. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the invention of gingerbread men. She ordered little cakes baked in the form of portraits of her familiars.

In Williamsburg, Virginia bakers made gingerbread alphabets to help teach children their ABCs. In 1771, the first recipe for ginger cookies was passed out to the Virginia voters to induce them to choose the correct candidates for the House of Burgesses.

”...and 'tis said ginger was included in the standard rations for American soldiers of the Revolution.”

In 1796, American Cookery, the first cookbook in the United States was published. There are four recipes for gingerbread in that book. The popularity of gingerbread continued through the next century, in no small part because the leading spice port of the world during the first half of the 19th century was Salem, Massachusetts. It takes nothing from the speed of the famed Yankee Clipper ships, however, to note that ginger, being a root, had always traveled well, as the Romans, then, apparently the Crusaders and Marco Polo discovered.

Today, gingerbread is associated with the holidays and Gingerbread Houses that may be simply or elaborately decorated. We share many of the traditional foods and treats -- be it a decorated house, gingerbread man, or plain old cookie.

Paraphrased from Chapel Hill Historical Society: http://www.fayettevilleobserver.com

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