Lebkuchen's (gingerbread) origin is German and dates back more than 600 years. It is believed that gingerbread most likely originated in the monasteries. At that time, ginger was found to have a preservative effect when added to pastries and bread, and this probably led to the development of recipes for ginger cakes, cookies and flavored breads. The manufacture of gingerbread appears to have spread throughout Western Europe at the end of the eleventh century. From its very beginning, gingerbread has been a fairground delicacy. Many fairs became known as "gingerbread fairs." Gingerbread-making was eventually recognized as a profession in itself. In the seventeenth century,
gingerbread bakers had the exclusive right to make it, except at Christmas and Easter.
Gifted craftsmen carved intricate wooden molds; artists assisted with decorating the gingerbread in frosting or gold paint. Incredibly fancy hearts, angels, wreaths and other festive shapes were sold at fairs, carnivals and markets. If a fair honored a town's patron saint, the saint's image might have been stamped into the gingerbread you would buy. If the fair were on a special market day, the cakes would probably be decorated with an edible icing to look like men, animals, valentine hearts or flowers. Sometimes the dough was simply cut into round "snaps."
Certain shapes were associated with different seasons: buttons and flowers were found at Easter fairs, and animals and birds were a feature in Autumn. During the nineteenth century, gingerbread was both modernized and romanticized. When the Grimm brothers collected volumes of German fairy tales, they found one about Hansel and Gretel.
Gingerbread making in North America has its origins in the traditions of the many settlers from all parts of Northern Europe who brought with them family recipes and customs. By the nineteenth century, America had been baking gingerbread for decades. American recipes usually called for fewer spices than their European counterparts, but often made use of ingredients that were only available regionally. Maple syrup gingerbreads were made in New England; and in the South, sorghum molasses was used.