Author: Justin
Serves many

1 qt. honey 2 doz. threads saffron, ground in mortar
1/2 - 1 tsp ground ginger 1/2 - 1 tsp ground black (or long) pepper
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground anise
~18 oz. plain bread crumbs some ground cinnamon

Heat the honey gradually over medium-low heat until it begins to boil.  Add the saffron, ginger, cloves, anise and pepper, and stir in thoroughly.  Remove from heat.  Gradually add bread crumbs until the mixture is getting quite stiff -- you should be able to stir it into strange shapes, and it should flow little or not at all.  Stop when it gets to this point -- the amount of bread crumbs is an approximation.

Let the mixture cool to the point where you can handle it, but do not cool completely or it will turn rock-hard.  (If it gets too hard, reheat in the microwave.)  Heavily dust a board with cinnamon powder.  Spread some of the mixture on the board, and press it fairly thin -- 1/4 inch or so, ideally.  Spread more cinnamon on top.  Lay wax paper on top, and use a rolling pin to flatten the top.  Cut into diamond shapes by cutting longways in one direction, then diagonally against it.  Cool fully and serve.

Notes and Variations

This comes out as chewy and sweet candy bars.  A modest-sized diamond seems best, since you usually nibble at this.

My original interpretation called for the high end of ginger and pepper above; that was an intense, fiery interpretation of the recipe, which the culinary masochists love but some folks find too intense.  I've found that the low end is more of a crowd-pleaser, but a bit bland to some tastes.  Something in the middle may be ideal.

This started as a very loose interpretation of the Harleian original, below.  That doesn't actually call for ginger, but I like to have ginger in my gingerbread.  It calls for "Box leaves" to be placed on top; I originally didn't know what those are, but they turn out to be a thoroughly unappetizing plant.  And it calls for the gingerbread to be stuck with whole cloves, but that's a little dangerous when serving to a large crowd, since people might not know to remove the cloves, so I put a little clove into the mix.  The serving suggestion of diamond-shaped bars, and the addition of anise to the mix, both come from Hugh Plat's 17th-century gingerbread recipe; that's a rather different recipe, but the hybridizing seems to work well.

After the May Day reconstruction, Marian pointed me at the Sloane description below.  That notably does not call for box leaves; instead, it calls to put it in a box, or perhaps to make it box-shaped -- that is, square the edges.  Her interpretation is that the later sources got confused, and I'm happy to go with that.  Note that it also explicitly calls for long pepper, rather than black; as of this writing, I haven't tried that yet, but plan on doing so next time.  Also, it specifically says to add saunders (sandalwood) as a coloring agent, which is optional in Harleian; I should try that next time.  It does not call for saffron, which at most contribute a fairly subtle edge to the flavor.  Finally, this version does explicitly call for ginger, which is comforting, since it seems like it should be there.

Reconstructed for the potluck at Falling Leaves '02.  Modified heavily for the dessert board at May Day '05.


From Harleian MS. 279.  Transcription of the original can be found in Take a Thousand Eggs or More, v2 (Cindy Renfrow) pg. 288.  Also in Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books (Thomas Austin, ed), pg. 34.  Original from the latter:

.iiij.  Gyngerbrede.  -- Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safrounm pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take gratyd Brede, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; then take pouder Canelle, & threw ther-on y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when you lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd the-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt have it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.

From Sloane 121.  Transcription of the original can be found in Curye on Inglish (Hieatt and Butler, ed), pg. 154.  Original:

19  To make gingerbrede.  Take goode honye & clarefie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastrel brede & grate it, & caste it into the boylenge honey, & stere it well togyder faste with a sklyse that it tren not to the vessell.  & thanne take it down and put therein ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it up with thin handes; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe theron suger, & pick therin clowes rounde aboute by the egge and in the mydes, yf it plece you, &c.