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Lady Barbara Fleming's Gingerbreads 1673

Gilt gingerbread

Here are some very interesting gingerbread recipes from a seventeenth century manuscript source. They have been taken from the receipt book of Barbara Fleming, the wife of Sir Daniel Fleming of Rydal Hall in Westmorland. Both the recipes are very old fashioned in that they use spices like liquorice, grains of paradise and sanders, which were popular in the medieval period, but unusual at this period. They are also based on breadcrumbs or almond paste rather than flour and are dried in front of the fire rather than being cooked. Gingerbreads of this kind lingered much longer in the North of England than in the South. The eighteenth century Yorkshire cookery author Elizabeth Moxon gives a number of similar recipes for gingerbreads of this kind.

Gilt Gingerbread

A pair of gilt gingerbreads made from the early Stuart mould opposite. These were printed from 'white gingerbread', a spiced almond paste sandwiched between two sheets of 'sugar plate', a thinly rolled sheet of gum paste. They were then painted with gum arabic and the gold leaf applied when the gum had almost dried.

Photos - Michael Finlay

A nineteenth century pearwood mould for making Punch and Judy gingerbreads. Very large moulds in the form of the biblical characters Abraham and Sarah were popular in the Low Countries. In England coronations or Royal weddings were sometimes celebrated with gingerbreads in the form of the king and queen. There is a mould in Stranger's Hall in Norwich which represents both King William and Queen Adelaide.

A gingerbread Punch and Judy made from the mould above.

Gingerbread drayman

Gingerbread cow

Above: A gingerbread brewer's dray and a grazing cow..

Early Gingerbread Mould

Lady Fleming's almond gingerbread

These little gingerbreads are flavoured with ginger and coloured with red sanders. Chips of red sanders can be seen at the top left of the photograph. It is the wood of the red sandelwood tree (Pterocarpus santalinum),which before the introduction of cochineal was used as a red food colouring. In sixteenth century London there was such a call for it as a dyestuff that there was actually a Guild of Sanders Beaters, whose job was to grind this very hard brick red wood into a fine dust.

Lady Fleming's original recipe for gingerbread of almonds.

Stuart gingerbread Mould

To make ginger bread of Almonds

Take a quarter of a pound of Almonds blanched, put them into a morter, put to them a quarter of a pound of sugar beaten, and halfe a score of dates cut small, beate all these together untill they be as small as for Marchpain, put thereto an ounce of cinamon, an ounce of ginger searced and a little sanders. beate all these together one houre after you make little cakes of it, and lay them upon your mould to print, and cast of the powder of cinamon and ginger between the mould and it so it doo not cleave, dry them before the fire till they be hard, and so lay them up in boxes and they will keep all the year.

From Lady Barbara Fleming's Manuscript Receipt Book (1673)

To make another kind of gingerbread

Take a quart of honey, put it into a great skillet on the fire and when it begineth to seeth, put thereto a pint of strong ale, & scum it clear, then put soo much grated bread as will make it like unto dow and put thereto halfe a pound of Liquorish, as much Aniseeds, and a quarter of a pound of ginger being finely searced with two ounces of graines, then take it out of your skillet and worke it on a table as you doo flower to dough to make it stiffe, then make it in cakes, put powder of Liquorish and Aniseeds upon your moulds so it cleave not and so lay them upon a board till they be dry, then lay them up in boxes.

From Lady Barbara Fleming's Manuscript Receipt Book (1673)


Historical Notes

Lady Fleming's gingerbreads are very strong of spice and are extremely potent. Their original medicinal origin, to aid digestion and to ward off cold were probably foremost in her mind. In the North of England, particularly in the Lake Counties where Lady Fleming lived, a strong gingerbread tradition has survived. Since at least the early nineteenth century it has been customary to give children little gingerbreads at Rushbearing ceremonies in various Cumberland and Westmorland villages.

The eighteenth century Yorkshire cookery writer Elizabeth Moxon also gives a number of gingerbread recipes that are rather archaic for her period. By the second half of the eighteenth century, gingerbreads made with treacle and flour were becoming popular. By the eighteenth century they were replacing the old breadcrumb and almond paste gingerbreads. However, Moxon gives a number of recipes for the more old fashioned kind, while London authors tend to offer only treacle/flour recipes. This would indicate that bread-based gingerbreads lingered longer in the North.

Nevetheless, Moxon does give a number of recipes for treacle gingerbreads. That quoted below is excellent for making moulded gingerbreads, but you need to leave out the candied peel. It is best to allow the dough to mature overnight before pressing it into the moulds. It is also very good to eat, but needs to be baked very gently.

Ambleside Rushbearing

A nineteenth century rushbearing procession in Ambleside, Cumbria. The Ambleside rushbearing no longer exists, but this a ancient ritual is still carried out in the villages of Grasmere and Warcop. In the Grasmere parish records there are entries dating from the early nineteenth century recording the expense of gingerbread for the rushbearing ceremonies.
To make GINGER-BREAD another way

Take three pounds of fine flour, and the rind of a lemon dried and beaten to powder, half a pound of sugar, or more if you like it, a little butter, and an ounce and a half of beaten ginger, mix all these together, and wet it pretty stiff with nothing but treacle, make it into rolls or cakes which you please; if you please you may add candy'd orange peel and citron; butter your paper to bake it on, and let it be baked hard.

From Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifery. Leeds: 1779

A selection of early 19th century gingerbreads

Above: a selection of English gingerbreads.

Left: an early gingerbread mould.

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