Gingerbread (17th-19th c.)

Recipe for York gingerbread from a 17th-19th c. collection of cookery and medical recipes | See full image and item metadata

The ingredients required to prepare this York gingerbread might look a little odd to the modern baker: most dessert bread recipes today aim for a sweet flavor, while the creator of this recipe specifically strove for a drier savory taste, balancing the sweetness of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger with brandy, almonds, (light) ale, and red sandalwood.

This recipe's inclusion of foodstuffs imported from vastly different regions of the world identifies its maker as an essential node in colonial networks of coerced indigenous labor. The English consumer's enthusiastic participation in these foodways reifies the concrete relationship between European palate and imperialism in the early modern era. In particular, Europe's voracity for refined sugar, once a luxury product because of the labor involved in its production, destroyed countless indigenous lives and trafficked over 11 million Africans with the incomparably horrific institution of sugar slavery on the mainlands of Mexico, Guyana and Brazil and so-called sugar islands like Cuba, Barbados, Jamaica, Mauritius, Java, and Sri Lanka. This recipe maker's easy ability to obtain ingredients like red sandalwood and ginger also testifies to the effectiveness of the Portuguese and the Dutch East India Company's disruption of Chinese-dominated maritime trade networks in Southeast Asia.

Simultaneously, early modern English makers continued to benefit from land and maritime trade with continental Europe. French brandy and Spanish almonds pair with locally-brewed ale in this recipe, further contextualizing this English household's diet within a global constellation of food economies.

For more on the geopolitical history of sugar cultivation in Asia and the Americas, see Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Barbaric History of Sugar in America, New York Times Magazine (14 August 2019); Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, Sugar Changed the World (2010).

For more on the import of ginger and red sandalwood to Europe, see Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong, "The Amazing and Mighty Ginger," Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd ed. (2011); Geoffrey Gunn, The Timor-Macao Sandalwood Trade and the Asian Discovery of the Great South Land?, Review of Culture 53 (2016); Laura S. Meitzner Yoder, Political ecologies of wood and wax, Journal of Political Ecology vol. 18 (2011).

For more on historical almond and brandy economies in and across Europe, see Linda Lum, Exploring Almonds (2 August 2021); Simon Majumdar, "He Who Aspires To Be A Hero Must Drink Brandy": The History of Brandy, Eat My Globe (17 May 2021).

Take 1 pound & qr of grated Bread as much Sugar one Ounce of Cinnamon, half an Ounce of Nutmeg, 1 of Cloves, a gross an Ounce of Ginger, 1 Ounce of Red LeSaunders or 6 of Senchenele, half a Pint of Brandy & as much Ale, half a pd of Almonds, your Sugar, Spice, & Liquor, put ym in altogether in a Skillit and give it a boyl, the Rest of the Bread & the Almonds put it into a Pan[shan?] & work it all together into a Past & make into Point[?].
Take 1 1/4 pounds of grated bread, 1 1/4 pounds sugar, 1 ounce cinnamon, 1/2 ounce nutmeg, 1 ounce cloves, 1 ounce ginger, 1 ounce red sandalwood, 1/2 pint brandy, 1/2 pint ale, 1/2 pound almonds. Boil sugar, spices, and liquor together in a skillet. Put bread and almonds into a pan, work it into a paste, and make into point [?].