21 November 2016

Christmas biscuits

Date of issue ; 2 November 2016

Here is a beautiful  set from Gibraltar Post featuring Christmas biscuits. Modern Christmas biscuits can trace their history to recipes from Medieval Europe. By the Middle Ages, the Christmas holiday had overtaken solstice rituals throughout much of present-day Europe. Christmas biscuits make perfect presents and they can also be made into Christmas tree decorations. To celebrate the upcoming Christmas Gibraltar Post has put into circulation six special stamps depicting these sweet baking.

The old feast traditions remained and while the roast and drink recipes were probably quite similar to what earlier Europeans had enjoyed, the pastry world was experiencing some amazing changes. Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper were just starting to be widely used and dried exotic fruits like citron, apricots and dates added sweetness and texture to the dessert tray. These items, along with ingredients like sugar, lard and butter, would have been prized as expensive delicacies by medieval cooks. Only on the most important holiday could families afford treats like these, which led to a baking bonanza to prepare for Christmas. Unlike pies or cakes, biscuits could be easily shared and given to friends and neighbors. Thus our modern Christmas biscuits date back to these medieval gifts.
Though biscuits have come a long way since medieval times, some things haven’t changed. Many Christmas biscuits are still heavily spiced. We think of ‘traditional’ Christmas flavours like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, and those are exactly the same spices medieval cooks would have used in their cookies ages ago. Ginger bread is a classic Christmas biscuit, and yet it’s also a biscuit that would have tasted strikingly similar back in the Middle Ages. Ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace combine to make a snappy, spicy taste, just like they would have back then. Gingerbread uses molasses as a sweetener, something that medieval cooks would appreciate as refined sugar was so expensive. These cooks would not have made gingerbread men, however. The first person to try that was none other than Queen Elizabeth I of England, who had the biscuit molded into the shapes of her favorite courtiers.

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