Gingerbread is popular at Christmas – but have you ever wondered why? Or what to pair with it? It’s said that Queen Victoria, and her German-born husband Prince Albert, brought gingerbread into fashion when they included it in with the other German Christmas traditions they adopted, like the Christmas tree, back in the 19th century.
However gingerbread has been popular in the UK since the 15th century. Many English villages had a tradition of young women eating gingerbread men, or “husbands,” to ensure that they would soon be married. Often towns would have a gingerbread fair – Market Drayton in Shropshire, is still famous for it, as is proudly displayed on their town’s welcome sign.
Gingerbread pairs very well with the sweet dessert wine Sauternes from Bordeaux and Chateau de Sainte Hélène has a lovely orange spice note amongst its flavours that marries with ginger very well indeed. Sainte Hélène is the second wine of the Second Growth (2ème Cru) Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience.
This wine has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey. Traditionally Sauternes are paired with desserts, crystallised fruits and chocolate but Château Sainte Hélène can accompany fish such as monk fish, prawns, scallops and sea bass as well as Roquefort cheese.
Chicken is very often served with Sauternes and creamy sauces made with ginger, honey and spices bring out the fragrance of the wine. You could try this with the Christmas turkey if you are feeling adventurous but it is delicious with the Christmas pud!
I have an interesting old recipe from the 1600s for Gingerbread which rather appropriately uses Sauternes’ red sibling claret!
A Manchet (or manchette) is a bread that was small enough to be held in the hand or glove. These were luxury breads that contained ingredients that were only available to the wealthy at the time and were often served at Court. Manchets would sometimes be sweetened by the addition of scented ingredients such as rose water, nutmeg and cinnamon. Here is the recipe in old English:
“Take three stale Manchets, and grate them: dry them, and sift them through a fine sieve: then add one ounce of Ginger being beaten, and as much Cinamon, one ounce of Liquorice and Anniseeds beeing beaten together, and searced, halfe a pound of sugar;
Then boil all these together in a posnet, with a quart of claret wine, till they come to a stiff paste with often stirring of it; and when it is stiffe, mould it on a table, and so drive it thin, and put it in your moulds: dust your moulds with Cinamon, Ginger, and Liquorice, being mixed together in fine powder.
This is your Gingerbread used at the Court, and in all Gentlemens houses at festival times.”
The modern version is:
1 cup of honey
½ tsp powdered ginger
pinch ground cloves
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of ground liquorice
splash of claret
2 cups of dry bread crumbs
1 tbsp of anise seeds
Gently heat the honey, add all the spices except the anise seeds and stir to blend. Add the bread crumbs and a splash of claret and mix thoroughly, cover and cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes so that the mixture becomes thick and moist.
Place the Gingerbread on a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold up the sides of the paper and mould the dough into small rectangle shapes. Sprinkle anise seeds on the top and press them gently into the dough with the side of a knife. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Enjoy with a glass of Sauternes!