I know Christmas seems to come earlier every year but I often make things in advance so that I am not so rushed once the festive season starts. Crystallised Ginger is one of Nick's favourites and is easy to make. I have made Marrons Glacés (chestnuts candied in sugar syrup) before and the recipe is basically the same.
Crystallised fruit (or Candied or Glacé fruit) was introduced to Europe during the Crusades. Preserving food using honey or palm syrup is a long standing method and was known to Ancient China as well as Rome - the Romans even preserved fish by soaking it in honey. However in Ancient Mesopotamia (now the land corresponding to modern day Iraq, N E Syria, S E Turkey and S W Iran) crystallising fruits was a speciality of the Arabic cultures. Crystallised citrus fruits and roses were served at Arab banquets and the speciality was brought with them as the Arabs moved into parts of Southern Europe.
In France the tradition of crystallising fruit in honey goes back to the Middle Ages and Apt in Provence is still renowned for it. In 1365, when Pope Urban V came to Apt on a pilgrimage, the people of Apt gave him crystallised fruit as a gift. In 1752, the city had six pastry cooks and confectioners. 150 years later, in England, crystallised fruits from Apt became very fashionable.
Ginger was one of the first oriental spices to reach Europe but its original homeland is still uncertain – it no longer grows wild. It's thought that Ginger probably originated in southern or south eastern Asia. March Polo saw Ginger growing in China and Giovanni de Montecorvino (a Franciscan monk and missionary) wrote an eye witness account of it in southern India in 1292. Ginger takes its Latin generic name, Zingiber, from the Sanskrit for ‘horn-shaped’, singabela, emphasising this rhizome’s similarity in appearance to deer antlers.
Tudor England loved Ginger, using it in sweetmeats and cakes and it was said to have been a particular favourite of Henry VIII (perhaps because of its reputation at that time of being a powerful aphrodisiac!) Gingerbread became popular in Elizabethan times and Elizabeth I is credited with the invention of Gingerbread Men as important courtiers had “charming likenesses of themselves” given to them as gifts. In Victorian times it became a popular practice to nibble Crystallised Ginger after a meal when it was disclosed that Chinese medicine recommended it for the digestion.
When Europeans took over the spice trade they hastened to cultivate Ginger in other tropical colonies as well. Ginger was the first spice plant that spread in this way from the Old World to the New, particularly in Jamaica which continues to produce good Ginger. A Frenchman was the first to grind the Ginger root to form a powder so often used today!
500g fresh Ginger root (peeled and sliced very thinly)
1 litre water
5 green cardamom pods
1/4 tsp salt
Place the Ginger in a pan with water, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes. Make a syrup with the sugar, cardamom pods, salt and litre of water and boil for 20 minutes before adding the Ginger. Boil for another 30 minutes. Remove the Ginger pieces from the boiling hot syrup and dip into granulated sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and place on a cooling rack until dry. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.