I bet you could hardly find a person in your closest environment that would not know what gingerbreads are. Well, if you do, then let me tell you that the biggest, most respected centre for the making of those wonderful treats in Europe is in Toruń – the city I’m going to talk about today.
Toruń wasn’t the first place where gingerbreads were manufactured, since history of this treat goes way back to ancient times. However, the first mention of gingerbread production in Toruń dates back to year 1380, when Mikołaj Czan, a baker, started making spiced cookies. The city had a long episode of hosting the Teutonic Knights, therefore it was possible for the trade of spices from far-away lands to flourish and so the history of the treat began.
The Polish name “piernik” comes from an archaic Polish word “pierny”, which meant spicy. The core of the word comes from a Polish word for black pepper – “pieprz”. Traditional recipe for gingerbreads includes black pepper, powdered ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, honey and two types of flour: rye and wheat.
It is said, that back in the 14th and 15th century the best dough would wait in wooden barrels sometimes even for 10-15 years so it would reach the hight of its phenomenal aroma. You might ask “how was it possible for it not to catch mold?”. Well, the secret was the combination on highly anti-bacterial and antiseptic ingredients such as honey, cloves and ginger. Even to this day, after you make your dough you should wait around 3 moths for it to mature.
As you walk the streets of Toruń you may come across many wonderful places offering you different gingerbread shapes, sizes and decorations to your liking. You may buy gingerbreads covered in chocolate, the ones with peanut butter, rose, raspberry, blackcurrant, cherry and plum fillings, whatever your heart desires. There is no end to this sweet journey so brace yourselves, you’re going to put on some pounds!
How to start an exploration
To start my journey I went to a store and bought a mix of gingerbreads and ate it. That’s how I like to explore the world – eating. Having no shame I walked in the sun enjoying my well-deserved treat as I thought it would be nice to actually know what I usually hang on my Christmas tree. So, at first, I went to the Museum of Toruń Gingerbread. It is located on 4 Strumykowa Street and it was an original gingerbread factory constructed in 19th century by the Weese family that specialized in the production of the sweet treats.
The museum is dedicated to the history of European gingerbreads. It incorporates interactive features and original artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. Personally, it was a good trip to gather some background information, however I expected it to be more spectacular. Nonetheless, it is a place worth seeing for its historic importance in gingerbread manufacturing.
DIY for the fearless
Like to get your hands dirty? Me too. So my next point on the gingerbread map of the city (apart from a number of breweries and gingerbread shops) was a place that I hold dear to my heart. And I say that not only because it’s well-thought and pretty but also because of the people that work there. The place I’m talking about is the Living Museum of Gingerbread at 9 Rabiańska Street. Imagine this: I go there on Sunday morning, 9:45am in front of the museum and they let me in and do an early show so I can catch my train back home on time.
I won’t spill too much about what you do there, but hey, that stuff’s pretty awesome. Basically, they teach you about what gingerbreads are made of, how to prepare them, how to store them, how to decorate them. Vintage style! Apart from being super friendly and funny they do presentations in English so you won’t have to guess what’s been said.
I thought I knew what I was doing making gingerbreads for Christmas. But now I know I know for sure! The dough you make during your visit won’t be for you – it will have to wait 3 months in the dark voids of a wooden barrel for another lucky person that will come along to make the treats.
After you’re done making your own Medieval-style gingerbreads (the recipe dates back to the 15th century) you’re taken upstairs to see 19th century factory. Once you get to know the machines you’re able to decorate gingerbreads on your own (see the first photo).
During my visit in the Living Museum of Gingerbreads I had a pleasure of meeting and talking about life in Toruń to the people that showed me around. That’s what I like best about traveling. No matter where you are and for what purpose, if you open yourself up and show kindness to people it will always come back to you with unforgettable experiences. That is exactly what I had a pleasure to encounter: friendly, funny and interesting people. Therefore, if you ever get a chance to visit, do visit in the early morning as you won’t get the crowds. The Musuem opens at 10:00am every day and closes at 6:00pm (last admission at 5:00pm). So grab yo kids, grab yo wife and go because it is so worth it!
Below are some of the photos I took:
To read more about my journey check the next post: “Toruń – under the custody of angels, where the Sun stopped.”