About this time last year, my grandson Sam and I were building our annual gingerbread house for his parents and we saw a news clip about a gingerbread contest at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse. “Papa, we are going to enter it next year.” End of story — I thought. About the first of October, he reminded me that I had promised to help him. What a memory this kid has!
So, for the next five weeks we spent a few hours a week on the project. He is only 7, so I did the baking — 11 boxes of gingerbread cookie mix. Our base, 23 by 17 inches, consisted of two 12-by-17-inch slabs, three-quarters of an inch thick. Then there were the houses, the fir trees and the apple trees, the shrubs and hedges, and so on. I did the baking, and then the decorating was Sam’s project. And he stuck to it. We delivered it on Veterans Day. The rest is up to the judges.
As you might imagine, all this ginger floating around my kitchen sent me to my computer to learn more about this spice that I have always enjoyed cooking with, especially when married to curry. It was that flower that we get into the store frequently, that flower that lasts and lasts and lasts.
I first knew ginger as a fresh-cut flower that we frequently purchased from area wholesalers or delivered by FedEx to us from a grower in Hawaii. It makes a wonderful houseplant that often rewards good care with beautiful and exotic flowers. There is even a hardy type, hedychium, though I do not know if it would survive our Auburn Novembers, let alone our Januaries.
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The root of these plants is called a rhizome, which is like a long and narrow root, about an inch across. You can get a good look at it when you visit your supermarket. Imagine that thing growing 10 or 12 feet in length, with a lot of branches, a few inches below the surface, with plants popping up every few feet. It is a wondrous plant. And there is a whole lot more cooking with it than gingerbread cookies.
Basically, we get it in three forms: as a powdered spice, crystalized, and as a fresh root. Recently I saw it at Trader Joe’s, pureed and frozen into half-inch cubes. I have fallen in love with it. It thaws easily and there is no waste. Unfortunately, fresh ginger root has a very short shelf life, so there tends to be a lot of waste. With my little cubes, I can add the flavor to soups and stews and even salad dressing to give each a somewhat exotic flavor. Before the cubes, I would buy a 5- or 6-inch piece of ginger root, peel it, cut off the nobs and put it into the freezer in a plastic bag. It would last for months. When needed, I grated it, still frozen, with a handheld rasp grater.
While looking into ginger, I found no end of health benefits being touted. I am sure that some work on some people. Now, remember, I am not a physician, and am only giving these things so you might research them for your own benefit. First, try some ginger tea to help relieve nausea. I have a couple of athletic friends who rely on small amounts of ginger daily as powder, by chewing on a tender root, or putting it in their food to soothe and relax their muscles while getting rid of aches and pains. It is a long-lasting remedy. Its anti-fungal values are quite well-documented and can be treated with powders, capsules, tea or even fresh. There are dozens of articles claiming that it will help control your sugars if you are diabetic, and it lowers cholesterol. Wow! A true miracle drug! I think that I will keep my uses to soups, stir-frying and salad dressings. And gingerbread cookies.
But, as with many other foods, ginger is safe when used in moderation, though in some Asian countries people seem to have built resistance to any side effects because they use it in cooking and in tea and to flavor applesauce, in salad dressings, and it is pureed and added to soups.