For many families, the tradition of making and decorating a gingerbread house is an annual holiday event. Little do they know that they are participating in a tradition that is centuries old. In fact, the history of gingerbread is actually quite fascinating.
Though the English are credited with being the first to bake and sell gingerbread when they introduced gingerbread men , they weren’t the first people in Europe to bake this unique treat. In fact, it was an Armenian Monk who is credited for bringing the recipe for gingerbread to Europe back in the Middle Ages during the 10th century. He then taught the skill of gingerbread baking to French priests and it started spreading across European Christendom.
Soon after, in Sweden, gingerbread became popular with nuns in convents as a way to help ease digestion. It was in England in the 17th century that monasteries became one of the first places to sell gingerbread along with farmers’ markets and pharmacies. It wasn’t until gingerbread found its way to England that it started being painted. It was there that it started being displayed in shop windows and quickly became the popular holiday treat we know today.
Though decorating gingerbread cookies had become a growing trend, the popular activity of decorating gingerbread houses didn’t really start to take hold until the publishing of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. Food historians say that the story’s inclusion of a fairy tale house made from gingerbread really boosted interest in these edible houses and became especially popular during Christmas. This well-known German tale also resulted in German settlers bringing gingerbread to America, where it continues to be popular today.
Creating gingerbread houses started at Wilton decades ago, and continues each year with the introduction of new designs. How many houses do we make? Well in just 2011 alone, we made over 2,000,000 gingerbread houses.
Here are some fun facts about those gingerbread houses:
- There was over 900,000 square feet of living space inside the houses
- If you stacked the gingerbread houses on top of each other they would equal 860 Empire State Buildings
- Over 645,000 lbs. of gingerbread and 900,000 lbs. of candy have been used for all of our kits
- Over 2,000,000 lbs. of icing has been used
Be sure to browse our list of 7 Cute Gingerbread House Ideas if you need some inspiration after learning all about the gingerbread house’s origin and history.
Do you have a favorite memory of decorating gingerbread houses, making a whole city of gingerbread houses or creating an entire gingerbread village with your family? Let us know in the comments below or show us your gingerbread creations by tagging us on Instagram @WiltonCakes.