Friday, June 17, 2011

A Gingerbread Puzzle.

I have a short but I hope sweet puzzle for you today. I wonder if any of you can explain the name of the following recipe which I found in Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery (1870's)?

Gingerbread Leek (excellent)
Mix thoroughly, one ounce and a half of ginger in one pound and a half of flour; add one pound and a quarter of sugar, and two ounces of peel, cut very fine. Melt together half a pound of butter, and a quarter of a pound of the best treacle. Stir these into the flour etc., flavour with three drops of essence of lemon, or more, if liked, and make the mixture into a smooth firm paste, with three eggs, well beaten. Roll out on a floured board, and cut the paste into fingers. Bake in a good oven for ten minutes. Store in a closely-covered tin box.

The only idea I can come up with is that the name is derived from the medieval ‘leach’ or ‘leche’, referring to a dish which can be sliced. The definition of this word in the Oxford English Dictionary does include a reference to gingerbread:

“A dish consisting of sliced meat, eggs, fruits, and spices in jelly or some other coagulating material. Often in adoptions of Anglo-Norman combinations, denoting particular varieties, e.g. leche frye  [compare Old French lechefroie, modern French l├Ęchefrite, dripping-pan] , damask leach, dugard leach, lumbard leach, purple leach, royal leach, etc. dry leach: a sort of cake or gingerbread, containing dates, etc. white leach: a gelatine of almonds.”

I have never come across such a modern usage of the name before, but unless you come up with another theory, I think this must be the explanation.  The word seems to become less common after the end of the seventeenth century, although there are a couple of references to it (spelled as ‘leach’) in the eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. Do you know of any in the late nineteenth century which would fill in the gap? Or is there another explanation of this ‘leek’ altogether?

There are several ‘leches’ on the menu of the coronation of Henry IV in 1399, which featured in a previous blog post HERE.
P.S You can find the archive of recipes for Gingerbread Through The Ages (which needs updating a little) HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldest have it for gingerbread.
William Shakespeare.


Shay said...

Maybe from slightly newer French, "to lick?"

Anonymous said...

Ah, this sounds lovely. I think I need to try it.

SharleneT said...

Haven't the foggiest, unless they're like 'crackers' and meant to help scoop up food? Seems like a very heavy dough for a bread. But, the contents are my favorite things, so I'd be tempted to try this one. Thanks for sharing and have a great day!

The Old Foodie said...

Some good ideas there folks, but i think we have to stick with the leche/leach theory!

ryan said...

I have to give it a try & spread a word around on this lovely topic..