Gingerbread takes its exceptional position amongst all the symbols connected with Toruń. Since its beginnings it has been an exquisite delicacy of a sweet snack and almost an obligatory souvenir brought from a visit to Toruń. It is not commonly known, however, that it used to be a very original decoration and even a kind of medicine.
The beginning of gingerbread bakery's history goes back to medieval times.
However, the craft developed rapidly in the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At that time, Toruń gingerbread was produced in workshops run by master gingerbread bakers. Since the nineteenth century gingerbread has been manufactured on a commercial scale in Gustaw Weese’s and Hermann Thomas’ factories, and since 1907, also in Jan Ruchniewicz’s production plant. F.C ‘Kopernik’ S.A, the world oldest gingerbread factory whose roots go back to 1763, still produces gingerbread in Toruń.
Over centuries gingerbread recipes were kept in secrecy. The first known Toruń gingerbread recipe comes only from the eighteenth century.
Take as much as you want of unleavened honey, put it to a vessel, add a goodly amount of strong booze and water, fry it slowly skimming it at times until it is thick, pour it to a pan, add white ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cubeb, cardamom, non-crushed anise, fine cut lemon rind, as much sugar as you wish and crush it all roughly.
Add to the hot honey, however, with not some much spice, mix it all together and when the honey cools down add enough rye flour, mix and let it wait covered until it is cool, then put it on the table and knead it as hard as possible adding as much flour as you need, then add cut candied orange peel or leman rind fried in sugar, knead again and form gingerbread as you like it. You can put some candied orange on the top here and there and sprinkle with beer and put into the oven for some time, then spread some more honey with fried beer on the top and put to the oven again.
The recipe lists ingredients necessary to bake this Toruń delicacy: honey, flour and spices. They also include pepper which gave the name to Toruń gingerbread (‘piernik’): the word ‘piernik’ comes from the adjective ‘pierny’, meaning peppery or hot.
The beauty of Toruń gingerbread was always also strongly emphasized. The old baking forms preserved until this day show the shapes of ornamental gingerbread in the past. The most popular ones included images of gentlemen and gentlewomen, hearts, carriages or animals, Toruń gingerbread forms were mainly ‘katarzynki’ (Catherine’s gingerbread) and the ones presenting the city's coat of arms.
The District Museum in Toruń is home to a unique collection of almost 500 gingerbread blocks - currently the biggest collection of that kind in Poland.
And so, Toruń is acknowledged as a ‘gingerbread capital of the world’. The fame of Toruń gingerbread was not only connected to its attractive look but, above all, with its delicious taste, which is still admired by numerous tourists visiting out city.