Ginger Up!

by Lily Brun — ’Tis the season for ginger. That fiery, spicy herb that’s most popular year-round in Asian foods, but comes into its heyday during the holidays. What would our celebrations look like without intricately decorated gingerbread houses that never get eaten, or gingerbread people that we creepily do eat, biting off the heads and limbs without a second thought, or ginger ale, that ever-present elixir that soothes upset tummies?

Well, it wouldn’t be as tasty for sure. Gingerbread is one of those iconic holiday treats that you either love or hate. I’m on the love side of the issue. It’s to December what pumpkin spice is to November.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, there is a gingerbread latte. And also, gingerbread scones. Gingerbread pancakes. Ginger snaps. Gingerbread eggnog. Gingerbread hot chocolate. How about a gingerbread Manhattan? Gingerbread truffles? You get the point. I kind of get the point. Sweet, yummy edible treats that hit all of the taste bud touchpoints.

Edible is the operative word here. What I don’t get is the whole gingerbread house fixation … all that time spent making one, never to get eaten. Many become unfolding science experiments of moldy candy and cement-like frosting that then gets dumped in the garbage, a clear sign that the holidays are, indeed, over. The entire endeavor baffles me.

Making gingerbread houses was never a holiday tradition in my house. My kids liked all of the components … gum drops, candy canes, frosting, cookies… which they promptly ate before any plans were made to build a house. They were not fans of gingerbread, or more precisely, ginger, at least in sweets.

It is an acquired taste, even in a savory dish. Fiery and spicy, it packs a wallop. You wouldn’t know that by looking at it, though. It’s pasty bland and colorless, probably because it grows underground. Not as a root, as a rhizome, an aggressive underground stem that worms its way through the dirt, spreading and taking over from other plants. It’s invasive, harmful to a garden if left unchecked. It’s weird to think that once it’s dug up those very aggressive properties transform it into a superhero for healthy living. A little ginger in the diet keeps a body in tip-top shape.

Little known fact: a doctor once prescribed gingerbread to a King of Sweden to cure his depression. Maybe he was struggling trying to understand the whole non-edible gingerbread house craze. Or maybe he had just read Hansel and Gretel, a Brothers Grimm scary tale about a cannibalistic witch who kidnaps two children and takes them to a forest house that’s … wait for it … made of cake and covered in candy and treats. An alarming story that would send anyone into a funk, even a King.

But the story was the presumed beginnings of the gingerbread house-making fad. In fact, Germany, where the Brothers Grimm lived, is home to Nuremburg, the Gingerbread Capital of the World. Wow! Ok, so that concludes the story of gingerbread and its role in holiday history.

But what I don’t understand is why ginger is used to describe redheads. I will say though, having a redheaded daughter, has truly spiced up my life.

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