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Warm gingerbread is a welcome yuletide treat

The tantalizing and spicy goodness of freshly baked gingerbread has long been associated with Christmas. As early as 1848, when Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's beloved spouse, popularized the Christmas tree in England, he decotated what was described as his "pretty German toy" for his family with tiny trinkets and sweets which included gilded gingerbread ornaments.

Long before the royal bakers obligingly baked the ginger-bread baubles for Prince Albert, however, America's German housewives of the 19th century baked various gingerbread ornaments for their Christmas trees. And industrious and seemingly tireless housewives in the Pennsylvania Dutch area baked their Christmas cookies in those years by the basketful.

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The cookies for their trees were far from bite-size, but usually a robust 1/2 -inch thick and cut in various Christmas-oriented shapes.

During the 19th century some old cookie molds were fashioned by itinerant tinsmiths. Evidently those shaped like little men were the most popular, as the gingerbread man is now considered a classic cookie shape for Christmas trees.

In our house when grown-ups come "to see our tree," they are often served hot wedges of gingerbread, graciously leaving the gingerbread men for the children.

For the making of her seasonal gingerbread treats, my mother relies upon the following gingerbread recipe with its old-fashioned ingredients. Be sure to serve it warm from the oven, with whipped cream, ice cream or a lemon sauce. Good Gingerbread 3 good-size tablespoons of lard 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 1 cup molasses 1/2 teaspoon cloves 2 teaspoons ginger Pinch of salt 1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water 2 cups flour 1 cup boiling water

Beat lard, sugar, and egg together. Add molasses, spices, salt, and baking soda. Gradually add flour. Finally add boiling water. Pour into buttered 8 -inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 50 minutes.

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