It’s easy to confuse gingerbread with “Christmas”.
After all, you have gingerbread men popping up in car commercials (exhorting us to lease a rather forgettable automobile brand) and architecturally in gorgeous gingerbread houses with candy cane joists.
But like most of what we associate with Christmas, gingerbread has absolutely no religious significance, a characteristic it shares with holly, decorated fir trees and wreaths. These are all accoutrements invented by creative Northern Europeans to brighten dark winter days, and especially to make the holiday as beautiful and festive as possible.
The dried, ground version is the main seasoning for gingerbread of all types, the cookie like shapes we love (both at the holidays and as ginger snaps) as well as the softer cake which is so aromatic, also known as “pain d’epices” in France.
Beyond its use in baking, ginger is one of the world’s most versatile seasonings. Sliced, fresh ginger is a foundation for Indian and Chinese cuisines, which also utilize it dried. Pickled ginger is a must to accompany Japanese sushi. Its soft pink blush is a byproduct of the pickling process, not food coloring (although the darker variety you sometimes see has been made with red plum vinegar).
The sautéed spinach with fresh ginger at the Blue Lemon in Westport was a revelation on one recent evening. It was even voted one of the state’s best side dishes in Connecticut Magazine’s Best of Connecticut 2010.
Then there are ginger tea, ginger ale and stronger tasting ginger beer, not spicy at all, and supposedly yielding some health benefits. Not having any medicinal properties, but quite delicious, is the Dark and Stormy, a concoction of ginger beer, dark rum and a squeeze of lime.
Too dubious to purchase and sample, was the White Ginger Cosmo I spotted on a drink menu: “freshly muddled ginger shaken with Absolut Citron Vodka, Mandarin Napoleon and white cranberry juice.” If any readers have tried this, leave a comment!
Wishing everyone a Spicy Holiday Season!