One of my favorite holiday desserts has roots that wind back through time to China. The unique savory spicy, sweet flavor of ginger is unmistakable. That may be why it's used in a variety of cuisines and dishes, ranging from entrees to desserts.
There are certain tastes and favorites that define the holiday season. With Thanksgiving just over a week away, our thoughts turn toward turkey and dressing, candied sweet potatoes and homemade hot rolls. Pumpkin desserts rank among my seasonal favorites and pumpkin pie spice includes ginger, along with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. It's ginger that gives it the spicy yet sweet flavor.
As much as I enjoy pumpkin pie, there's another dessert that's existed much longer that I also crave this time of year - gingerbread.
Since ginger was among the many spices that originated in Asia, it took centuries to make the journey to Europe. There's a theory that gingerbread in some form reached the Mediterranean region with crusaders in about the 11th century. By the Middle Ages, gingerbread was a thing.
Gingerbread was often sold as a treat at fairs and festivals throughout Europe. It was often baked into whimsical shapes and decorated. Some fair ladies sent their knights off with a piece of gingerbread for luck and others devoured gingerbread "husbands" in hopes of gaining the real thing.
Shakespeare must have appreciated a tasty bit of gingerbread because he mentioned in in Love's Labour Lost with this line : “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread.”
There are two types of gingerbread - the kind that's more of a cookie cut-out like a classic Gingerbread boy or girl and the cake like version made with molasses. I can eat either but my favorite is a piece of gingerbread cake, preferably still warm from the oven and topped with whipped cream.
Gingerbread made the journey across the water with the earliest settlers and Colonial recipes exist, including one purported to that of Washington's mother.
Here's one of my favorite recipes. It's simple but for those who find baking to be a little challenging, there are also mixes available this time of year at most supermarkets.
1 large egg, room temperature, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup cold water
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine egg, sugar, molasses, butter and water and mix well. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, ginger and salt; add molasses mixture. Beat until well mixed. Pour into a greased 8-in. square baking pan. Bake at 350° until cake tests done, about 20-25 minutes. Cut into squares andserve warm with whipped cream.
Forget visions of sugar plums dancing through my head this time of year. I'd rather have a bite of gingerbread, a taste that's traveled through the centuries.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a published novelist and freelance writer. Not surprisingly she also likes to cook.