Holiday Cookies From Us to You

Posted by Cindy Clarke on 12/16/2015
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Austria, Europe, Food, Germany, Holiday, Ireland, Italy, Jewish, Switzerland, Tauck, USA, tradition, history

A tradition of home-baked cookies to make the holidays sweeter…
from our families to yours!

gingerbread_1It’s a tradition that dates back centuries and one that never fails to bridge cultures and countries with a taste of good tidings and heartfelt holiday cheer. I’m talking cookies… spritzed, sprinkled, shaped, sugared and shared, neighbor-to-neighbor, in the spirit of the giving season.

Christmas cookies, or biscuits as they are often called, can trace their history to medieval Europe, when fragrant spices, nuts of all kinds and dried fruits made their way west.

Returning home from their travels, battle weary and bone tired, the Crusaders are credited with introducing the first ingredients for one of Christmas’ most iconic holiday cookies, gingerbread, in the 1100s. Initially prized as a stomach soother, cold preventer and a food preservative, ginger sugars didn’t really come into their own until the 1300s when the English added stale bread crumbs to their savory ginger mixtures. This new ginger bread became so popular during the Middle Ages that gingerbread fairs evolved from creative recipes using this heady spice. (When you discover that the English term “fairing” means “a gift given at or brought from a fair,” gingerbread really does add more holiday fun to the festivities!)

gingerbread_2Early bakers – artistically talented! – created a variety of gingerbread shapes to herald the different seasons of the year. (Think flowers at Easter; animals in autumn.) In later centuries, gingerbread designs became more elaborate, with depictions of ladies, lords, soldiers, castles and floral motifs enhancing the confections. Rumor has it that Queen Elizabeth I of England, herself enamored with the myriad possibilities of gingerbread cutouts, presented gingerbread figures molded in the likeness of some of her important guests when they dined with her. (I doubt that the term “off with their heads” originated here, but I do know that unwed maidens of that time were required to eat gingerbread “husbands” at one certain village fair if they were to stand a good chance of meeting a real husband!)

While each European country maintained its own form of gingerbread, from soft, spiced cakes and thick squares of bread to crisp flat cookies, Germany had the most enduring tradition of flat, shaped gingerbreads. In fact, Nuremberg, Germany, became known as the gingerbread capital of the world after its talented artists, sculptors, painters, woodcarvers and goldsmiths all contributed their skills in creating the most beautiful gingerbread cakes in Europe.

These extraordinary objects of edible art weren’t baked in the home back in the day; rather, gingerbread was the exclusive production of a guild of master bakers known as Lebkucher and their creations – a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, white pepper, anise and ginger – were known as lebkuchen. The German practice gingerbread_3of making houses with lebkuchen has made Nuremberg, Germany, the “go to” Christmas market place to see their ultimately delectable “home sweet home” works of art since the 1800s.

It wasn't until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert included it on their holiday table, among a variety of German Christmas traditions, that gingerbread came into its own at tables all over Europe and America, taking shape in endearing cookie people and frosted, candied houses!

But it’s not just gingerbread that is synonymous with December holidays. Different countries and religions proudly add their own sweet treat in the holiday cookie line up, including gingersnap pepparkakor from Sweden, Eastern Europe’s kolaczki, English thumbprint jelly cookies, Italian Anisette cookies, Irish shortbread cookies, Austrian Linzer cookies, Swiss star-shaped Zimtsterne, Hanukkah cookies called rugelach, Kwanzaa “good luck” Benne Wafers, America’s sugar cookies and so many more!
In the spirit of the holidays, we are delighted to share some of the season’s eatings with you here, a gift of friendship from our celebrations to yours!

Download our holiday cookie recipes here, and remember to check out our escorted tours of Europe, where the Christmas cookie originated!


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