Knitting Christmas Sweetness

“And I had but one penny in the world. Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread.”
— from Love’s Labors Lost 1597
by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Knitted gingerbread house at Lion Brand Yarn Studio.

The folks at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio at 34 West 15th Street assemble very imaginative window displays. Over the past year two other displays, last year’s Christmas theme and a charitable cause, a have been written about in this space, each with many photos.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Knitted gingerbread house, detail, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

The 2015 Christmas display is sweet: gingerbread and other goodies, from lollipops to cookies, all knitted from yarn. It is delightful! An army of knitters must have worked on this for months!

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Window display knitted gingerbread house, detail, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

“I have a little boy, younger than you, who knows six Psalms by heart: and when you ask him which he would rather have, a gingerbread-nut to eat, or a verse of a Psalm to learn, he says: ‘Oh! the verse of a Psalm! angels sing Psalms,’ says he; ‘I wish to be a little angel here below;’ he then gets two nuts in recompense for his infant piety.”
—from Jane Eyre 1847, by Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855)

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Knitted gingerbread house, detail, at Lion Brand Yarn Studio.

gingerbread: 1a. A dark molasses cake flavored with ginger. 1b. A soft molasses and ginger cookie cut in various shapes, sometimes elaborately decorated. 2a. Elaborate ornamentation. 2b. Superfluous or tasteless embellishment, especially in architecture.
—from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Knitted gingerbread house, detail, at Lion Brand Yarn Studio.

The etymology of gingerbread: From the Latin zingiber to the Old French, gingebras, the word gingerbread referred to preserved ginger. In Middle English gingerbread referred to a stiff pudding and to preserved ginger.Next, the word applied to a confection made with honey and spices. The French phrase pain d’épices, ‘spice bread’ and the German terms Lebkuchen and Pfefferkuchen, pepperbread or pepper cake, translate to gingerbread. By the fifteenth century the word was applied to a cake made with treacle, a syrup used for sweetening, and flavored with ginger.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Window display, detail, at Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

By the end of the eleventh century gingerbread was being baked throughout Western Europe; it was likely that ginger was brought back by soldiers returning from their Crusades in the Holy Land. From the beginning gingerbread was featured at fairs, and considered a delicacy. Many fairs became known as “gingerbread fairs” and gingerbread baked goods took on another name, “fairings” in England. When baked into certain shapes gingerbread was associated with different times of the year. If it was baked into shapes of buttons and flowers that meant spring and Easter fairs; animals and birds shapes were a sold in autumn. English villages had a tradition that involved unmarried women. The young maidens were meant to eat a gingerbread ‘husband’ at the fair if they expected to catch a flesh-and-blood husband.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Window display, detail, at Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

Germany has the longest and strongest tradition of baking gingerbread into flat shapes. At autumn fairs throughout Germanic countries rows of stalls are filled with gingerbread hearts, decorated with white and colored icing and tied with ribbons.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Gingerbread house window display, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

In Nuremberg, Germany the Christkindlmarkt is held each December. Hand carved Christmas decorations, special sausages, and the Nuremberg Lebkuchen flavored with ginger are for sale. Gingerbread in Nuremberg was not baked at home; but it was the exclusive right of a Guild of Master Bakers, the Lebkuchler. The town became known as the gingerbread capital of the world. Craftsmen such as sculptors, painters, woodcarvers and goldsmiths had a hand in creating beautiful gingerbread cakes. The woodcarvers made intricate wooden molds; painters and goldsmiths decorated the cakes with frosting or gold leaf that were sold at the fairs.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Gingerbread house window display, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

In 19th-century Germany gingerbread, like everything, was romanticized. The Grimm Brothers included the story of Hansel and Gretel in their collection of German fairy tales. The two children, abandoned in the woods by destitute parents, discovered a house made of bread, cake and candies. The German Romantic composer Englebert Humperdink (1854–1921) wrote an opera, Hänsel und Gretel, about the boy and girl and the gingerbread house. Throughout Germany large pieces of gingerbread, lebkuchen, are used to build Hexenhaeusle, witch houses, also called Lebkuchenhaeusel and Knusperhaeuschen, meaning houses for nibbling at.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Window display, detail, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

Gingerbread baking in America traces its origins to the settlers from Northern Europe; they brought with them family recipes and customs. Because of limited spice supplies, American recipes called for fewer spices than the European versions; but often used ingredients only available regionally. In New England gingerbreads were made with maple syrup; and in the South sorghum molasses was used. In Pennsylvania, where the influence of German cooking was strong, traditional Germany gingerbreads were baked, especially at Christmastime. America’s Midwest welcomed many northern Europeans. At Christmas it is still a tradition in the Midwest to serve Scandinavian cookies such as pepparkaker or lebkuchen.

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Window display knitted gingerbread house, detail, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

Gingerbread Husbands: Gingerbread cakes fashioned like men, commonly sold at fairs up to the middle of the nineteenth century.
—from The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 1870, by E. Cobham Brewer (1810–1897, English compiler)

Lion Brand Yarn, Gingerbread House, Knit, Knitting, Yarn, Sweet, Christmas, Window, Gingerbread Man, Candy

Window display knitted gingerbread house, detail, Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC.

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”
—from Rebecca 1938, by Daphne Du Maurier (1907–1989)

ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT © THE AUTHOR 2015

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