One of our oldest known pastries
Our beloved pepparkaka (gingerbread) is a very old and popular tradition around Christmas time. Although the gingerbread is eaten all year round, it is strongly associated with Christmas and has its own day on December 9th.
The gingerbread is a thin, crispy cake that gets its unique taste from spices such as ginger, cloves and cinnamon and is one of our oldest known pastries. The gingerbread can be traced back all the way to Mesopotamia in 1700 BC (wow!). It is said that the gingerbread came to Sweden from Germany. The first documented eating of gingerbread in Sweden dates to the 14th century when nuns in Vadstena Monastery baked and ate them for medicinal purposes. At that time, in addition to those we have today, the ingredients were also pepper, cardamom, anise, cedar oil, lemon and orange peel.
Gingerbread became a commodity in Sweden in the 16th century, when it was sold in special monastery pharmacies and monastery-owned bakeries in Swedish cities. At that time they were sold mainly for medical purposes, but people also bought them because they were very tasty. Gingerbread was also imported ready-made, especially from Nuremberg in Germany, which is still an important center for gingerbread production and export of the product.
With the entry of industrialism, the gingerbread moulds that we still use in our homes were born. Previously, gingerbread was baked in carved wood, but now people started using tinplate and rolled out dough. The old method of shaping gingerbread, that is, with carved wood, gave the cakes more detail. This disappeared with the new method but was quickly replaced by garnish after baking.
The gingerbread moulds used to form rolled gingerbread dough (tinplate molds) are almost exactly the same as the ones that are popular even today. Specifically hearts, pigs and angels. Many people probably think that these gingerbread shapes have something to do with Christmas, but this is a big misconception. The heart is a symbol of love used in the monasteries by the nuns who baked gingerbread, the pig is a symbol of the welfare of life and the angels symbolised the goodness of man.
For many, the gingerbread is a "wish cake".
A medieval game about eating gingerbread has inspired this. The game is about holding a gingerbread in your open palm, and then tapping the cake lightly with the other hand. If it is divided into three parts, it means that you can wish for something quiet for yourself and the wish then comes true.
It is said that pepparkakan (which in Swedish means pepper cake) probably got this name because people in older times could not always distinguish between spices, and a strongly spiced cake then got its name from the strongest known spice in the cake, in this case- pepper. Quite an interesting story for such a small cake. DOn't forget to celebrate pepparkakan on December 9th :)