THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

17 December 2017

A medieval recipe for gingerbread

‘Tis the season to be merry, and what better way to celebrate than enjoy a festive treat of gingerbread. A medieval recipe for gingerbread features in a 15th-century English cookery book of extravagant banquets held at the British Library (Harley MS 279). Unlike our modern cake or biscuit-like version of gingerbread, the medieval recipe is more similar to confectionery in texture but experts agree that it will satisfy any sweet-tooth.

Image 1_harley_ms_279_f027v

The opening of a medieval recipe for gingerbread, from Harley MS 279, f. 27v

Image 2_harley_ms_279_f028r

Continued: a medieval recipe for gingerbread, from Harley MS 279, f. 28r

        Gyngerbrede-

        Take a quart of hony, & seethe it, & skyme

        it clene. take Safroun pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on. take gra-

        tyd 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.

The recipe calls for honey, saffron and powdered pepper to be mixed with grated bread. Cinnamon is then added before the gingerbread is shaped and cut into slices, and finally decorated with box leaves attached to cloves. If you wish to colour the gingerbread red, you may add saunders (sandlewood) as dye.

  Image 3_egerton_ms_747_f105v

Miniature of a zinziber, or ginger plant (left) with a zedoary, or turmeric plant, from a medieval herbal, Egerton MS 747, f. 105v

Keen-eyed readers may have noticed that the recipe is missing one key ingredient – ginger! We can speculate that this ingredient may have been left out accidentally by the scribe, but we cannot know for sure. Ginger was a popular spice in more luxurious medieval culinary recipes, especially winter dishes. Along with cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper, ginger was believed to have heating properties, and it was thought to be able to warm the stomach and aid the digestive process. These spices are still found in modern Christmas dinner recipes, so medieval gingerbread will complement your holiday roast nicely.

Image 4_harley_ms_4372_f215v

Miniature of a banquet with courtiers, servants, and dogs, from Harley MS 4372, f. 215v

 

Alison Ray

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