Gingerbread is not a tradition from my childhood. Though my family’s Ukrainian holiday sweets included wonderful jam-filled kolachki and deep-fried confections like chrusti (crispy bow tie shaped cookies) and pompushki (jelly donuts), I always longed for what seemed to me the most American Christmas cookie – gingerbread!
When I married into the Blevins clan, I was so happy to find they were ardent gingerbread enthusiasts, complete with their own family recipe. Blevins gingerbread starts on the stovetop with butter melting and brown sugar dissolving and progresses to fill the air with what has become for me one of the smells of Christmas – a bubbly sweet stew of molasses, orange peel, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
When I add the leavening agent – baking soda which had been dissolved in hot water – I always wonder which progressive ancestress modified the recipe to substitute this newfangled baking soda for the pearl ash used up until the 19th century. The dry ingredients are sifted in and a gooey warm ball of dough is wrapped in waxed paper and chilled
When the dough is ready it is imperative to be rolled it to the proper thickness. Too thin, the boys will burn. Too thick, the boys will puff up into unhumanlike proportion.
At some point, the official gingerbread torch passed to me in the form of the family gingerbread cutters. A handful of shapes including a candy cane, a Santa with pack, a star, a heart, and the quintessential boy. The boy is definitely the Brahmin of the cutters, and boys outnumber anything sliding off my cookie sheet.
Decorating the boys is a production involving a viscous powdered sugar icing applied with toothpicks, a huge selection of colored sprinkles, sugars, jimmies and silver dragees, many helping hands and senses of humor.
Gathered around a table the older hands teach the younger hands the tricks of the trade. Though most of the blanks are turned into traditional buttoned up and smiling boys, many cookies become girls, and there are always seem to be a few outliers like Martians, or punk-rockers, or zombie victims with bitten off limbs in the mix. All works of art are held up to be admired.
Once the last cookie is transformed, sticky hands and faces are washed, sugary goodness is swept up from the floor and wiped from the table and I consider the platters of gingerbread with much satisfaction. Christmas is indeed coming, and who knows what the new year will bring.
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes to One and All for the Coming New Year!