As I mentioned below, American gingerbread is informed by at least two major gingerbread archetypes: shortbread-like English/Scottish gingerbread and crispy, cookie-like German gingerbread. Although judging from the sheer variety of gingerbread I’ve come across over the years, we’ve probably inherited several others too. This page from The Boston Cook Book demonstrates just how varied gingerbread making was in the States even 100 years ago. There you can see four Victorian-era recipes fr gingerbread, two for “hard” gingerbread, one for “soft” gingerbread, and one for “superior” gingerbread, which calls for both a full glass of wine AND a full glass of brandy. Now that’s what I call superior!
What I find interesting about this page is the range of textures of the various “breads.” The first, which employs a good deal of fat and a sort of proto-creaming method, is almost cake-like. The next is cookie-like, and the next almost candy-like inasmuch as it calls for a huge amount of molasses and very thin rolling. Then of course there’s the “soft” one which appear almost like a gingerbread brownie. That’s a lot of different kinds of gingerbread, and it gets me thinking: for a “traditional” Christmas food, it doesn’t seem as though there ever was such a thing as a traditional gingerbread in America.
As an aside, I love that note under the first recipe: “This will keep six months.” With all that alcohol I don’t wonder why, but it reminds me: have you started your fruitcake yet?