The roots of ginger and the fun of gingerbread

I’ve had a very interesting weekend with culinary ginger, the type you bake with. But before going there, I need to talk about flowering ginger. These are very exotic-looking flowers that you find, from time to time, in flower shops. They are natives of the islands and lands around the South Pacific, with most that we see in our shops originating in Hawaii, though there is more and more production in Southern California. We see some, too, from huge farms in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The advantage of getting them from these Caribbean nations is, of course, the savings in transportation. Though you sometimes see them in groceries and mass markets, they generally do not meet the needs of their buyers, who are looking for a nice, big bunch of flowers for $10 or $15, not two or three stems of ginger, anthurium or birds of paradise.

In the typical flower shop they are usually used as accent pieces, among other flowers in bouquets. They are striking, bold in color and quite long-lasting. Some of the varieties are use to create very exotic bridal party bouquets.

I know that the houseplant gardeners reading this column will wonder if you can grow these plants indoors in our area. In a word, absolutely. Looking for sources, my first search led me to Amazon. I could not believe the number of varieties offered there. Searching further, I found a lot of nurseries in Texas and Sothern California offering dormant roots. A single root will cost you about $10. In another column, I will go over the needs of this plant to thrive in your home.

Right now, I want to tell you about my adventures this weekend with culinary ginger. First of all, I do use a lot of ginger in my kitchen. I like the flavor, and I like the way it smells up the kitchen. If you buy it at a grocery, be sure to heft a couple of them before buying. If they feel light, try another store. I lift several and take the heaviest. Of course, there is ground ginger, but recently I have found it frozen in packets of 20 little cubes, each equaling a teaspoon.

On with my story. A couple of weeks ago, my grandson, Sam, reminded me to mail our entry for the Erie Canal Museum gingerbread contest. I did. At dinner one evening, we each voiced our opinion about what we would create. After several evenings of serious discussion, we agreed on a plan.

Perhaps you may not have never heard of this contest. It is held each November and December at the museum. There are several classes of entries; we are in the 12 and younger. (With grandpa’s help. I do the baking and cutting, and Sam is in charge of all decorating.) Our entry will be 24 inches wide and 17 inches deep, and will be as much as 13 inches tall. There are several buildings, gardens, all sitting on the banks of the Erie Canal. Win or lose the contest, Sam and I are winners. We are having a whole lot of fun and learning about baking and decorating.

What is gingerbread? The term refers to baked goods usually flavored with ginger, cloves and cinnamon, and sweetened with honey, molasses or sugar. Gingerbread can be a delicious soft loaf or as hard as a gingersnap. The term ginger, refers, of course, to the genus name of the plant from which the spice grows, “zingiber” in Latin.

History tells us that this confection was brought to Europe, actually northern France, by an Armenian monk in the late 900s. It slowly spread throughout Europe and then to the Americas. By the 13th century it was being made in Poland, and on it went. Gingerbread was brought to America by European settlers who substituted molasses for sugar. It was much less expensive.

Though available much of the year, for the next couple of months you will be seeing gingerbread everywhere, whether it be kits to make and decorate, beautifully decorated gingerbread men and women, and gingerbread in many shapes, forms and textures.

Here are a few last words about the museum. There are videos, a museum shop, fantastic displays and even a real canal boat that the kids can climb onto. It is really worth a trip at any time of the year. Call to be sure they are open.

Be safe.

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