Nowadays, there are many variations on gingerbread - gingerbread houses made of crisp biscuit, the soft, crumbly, German lebkuchen, and the sweet and sticky desert cake - to name just three. Whatever form it takes, the gingerbread will be flavoured chiefly with ginger, either dried and ground or perhaps preserved for a bit of an indulgence.
But offer these treats to someone from the 17th or 18th centuries, and they might well be disappointed, since their gingerbread was much more complex.
Amongst the recipe books and household manuals from this period amassed by Wellcome Collection, it’s rare for there not to be at least one form of gingerbread recorded by the mistress of the house. And even the most cursory glance through the ingredients reveals gingerbreads with a riotous assembly of spices and flavourings.
Madam Bridget Hyde's recipe book (1676-1690) notes that gingerbread is "...good for the wind in the stomach” and being made from ground almonds, is also gluten free.
In addition to a cornucopia of spices, Elizabeth Jacob's 17th-century recipe also includes treacle, which is unusual for the time. There's no indication whether the author intends that the spices be ground to a powder or not, but it seems likely.
Not only would this release the maximum possible aromatic flavours from the caraway, mace, cloves, “cinament” and “peper” and of course ginger, listed, but the coriander and fennel also included are rather substantial seeds and could prove painful to bite on if left whole.