October 14, 2020, by Kathryn Steenson

Gingerbread from Elenor Mundy’s Cookery Book

This is a guest post from Library Assistant Safiya Williams.

We’re only a few days into the beginning of Autumn Term and already I am thinking of falling leaves, woollen knits and of course gingerbread. Traditionally flavoured with ginger, cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon – gingerbread is a perfect warming treat as the temperature drops.

Upon flicking through Elenor Mundy’s Cookery Book this month, I found three recipes for Gingerbread all of which had the same basic ingredients – those you would imagine for a basic cake mixture (flour, eggs, etc..) and those that you would imagine for a rich cake like Gingerbread (treacle/muscovado sugar and lots of ginger), but then there is the addition of a few spices that I wouldn’t immediately associate with Western cooking – spices like cloves, carraway seeds and cinnamon. A quick Google search suggests that Gingerbread was brought over to the West by an Armenian monk (i), over a thousand years ago. The holy man later taught the recipe for his spiced cake (which he made himself) to the French, who then passed it on to the German’s … and so on, until it reached the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

After further reading in our own East Midlands Collection, I found a book on food from Lincolnshire county (ii), which states:

“…most villages and country market towns held their own particular feast or fair during the course of the year…Gingerbread and pepper cake, which was a kind of gingerbread with sweet-pepper added to the mixture, were also traditional at fair time.”

Which makes Gingerbread feel an even more fitting bake for October, when we would normally be enjoying Goose Fair here in Nottingham.

Two neatly handwritten recipes for Thick Gingerbread

Two gingerbread recipes in Elenor Mundy’s cook book, c.1728-1767. (Ref: MS 86)

Elenor’s Recipe:

1.5 lbs or 680g Flour
1 lbs or 450g Treacle
1.75 lbs or 340g sugar
1 ounce or 30g ginger
2 oz or 60g of caraway seeds, citron and citrus peel
4 egg yolks

My Recipe:

340g Self Raising Flour
2 tbsps Treacle
180g light brown sugar
Some ginger (ground and fresh)
A pinch of coriander
4 egg yolks
1 tsp milk
225g melted butter
1 tsp baking powder

Any seasoned bakers may have immediately noticed an issue with the original recipe – no liquid; which you will certainly notice after mixing all of your ingredients and being met with a bowl of gingery dust. As someone who makes gingerbread quite regularly, I improvised the additional ingredients a little and for the most part they definitely worked.

I don’t think this will be replacing my usual recipe, but it was fun to have a better understanding of a favourite. If I were to do this recipe again, I would reduce the eggs to two (I’ll admit I had intended to but forgot) and maybe include the white. I would also increase the milk and reduce the butter.

Photo of the gingerbread cake from above, on an orange tablecloth

Safiya’s gingerbread loaf


Elenor Mundy’s cookery book, along with several other recipe and household books, can be viewed in our Reading Room on King’s Meadow Campus. We’ve made a few changes to our procedures as a result of Coronavirus, so please read our blog about what’s changed and how to make an appointment to visit.


i. How an Armenian Monk Brought Gingerbread to the West, Ianyan Mag (2014) – http://www.ianyanmag.com/how-an-armenian-monk-brought-gingerbread-to-the-west/
ii. Lincolnshire Country Food: The Cookery and Associated Customs. Elder, Eileen (1985) 1st Edition, Scunthorpe Borough Museum.

Posted in From the collectionsRecipe of the month