Pierniki! Who loves piernicki? Ok, let me ask again. Gingerbread….who loves gingerbread? Who loves the smell of fresh gingerbread cookies? I do! I do! If you want to be engulfed in the smell of fresh gingerbread, come to Torun, Poland, where they have been making gingerbread since the early 13th century! And you can learn how to make it too! When my sister visited in October, we went to the Gingerbread Museum in Torun, took a tour and learned all about the history of gingerbread and then how to make gingerbread cookies!
The Gingerbread Museum is tucked away on a little side street, so if you aren’t sure where it is, just head for the Old City Market square and look for the signs. (There is lots to see here besides gingerbread and could take several trips to see everything!)
On our way walking to the museum, we took a few pictures with this golden donkey that is near the Old City Market Square. I had to look this up, but the donkey represents a wooden donkey with a sharpened tin ridge along its spine that was used as the city pillory and appeared in the corner of the Old City Square around in 1629. It was mostly used to discipline Toruń soldiers who, seated on its back, frequently had lead weights tied to their legs to intensify the pain. (Ouch!) The convicts suffered double punishment: in addition to the protruding back sinking into their bottom, they were exposed to public humiliation.
OK, now that you’ve had your history lesson, gingerbread making sounds like more fun, so lets check out the museum.Starting on the top floor the first thing you do, once you’ve walked up THREE flights of stairs, is to take a rest on a bench with one of the Weese family, founders of the still active gingerbread factory.First is a visit to see what you might find in a typical kitchen and then a visit to a Pierniki shop.Doesn’t my sister look like she’s buying some from the “fake” lady?Or how about visiting in the office to see how much money they are making selling gingerbread by using an abacus?When was the last time you saw one of those? Never? Ok, I must be older than you.
Going down one floor it’s time to see how the gingerbread was made in the early days. See that wooden trough?That was used to knead the gingerbread dough by hand. Gingerbread dough can be stiff….so imagine the muscles you’d need to have to knead a big hunk of dough. There are display after display showing all the different and intricate wooden molds that were used to make special gingerbread cookies. Or like this traditional mold – a carriage with horses. Or these rollers used to make designs on freshly rolled dough.The wooden molds were hand carved as depicted here.Once the cookies were ready for baking, they were cooked in ovens like these. This was before they invented the machinery that was used in the mass production of the simple heart and biscuit shaped gingerbread that is still made today. Here is a batch fresh off the conveyor belt….ok, these are not fresh because it’s a display, but they look tasty (and shiny) just the same.
After the museum tour my sister and I took a lunch break where I had my first Kebab…looks tasty and huge doesn’t it? It was HUGE. I think there was a pound of meat on that!. After lunch we headed back to the Gingerbread Museum for our gingerbread making demonstration. It’s a huge room full of individual stations.Because there were just two of us, we were included in with a group of older school age children. Although they do tours in English, we were warned beforehand that the demonstration we were attending would be in Polish. But we were able to follow along by watching what everyone else was doing.First you pick the mold that you want to use to make your own individual cookie. The next step is to take the “paintbrush” and brush oil on the mold making sure you cover it really well. This is my (blurry) sister diligently working on her “oil painting”.I was a neat “oil painter”….and in case you want to know, I also color inside the lines…I’m a bad, but neat artist. See the lump in the picture below next to my oiled mold? That is the gingerbread dough they give you.You spend about 2-3 minutes kneading your dough (basically squishing it around in your hands like you would playdough). Then you press it into your mold, making sure to press reeeaally good so that all of the design shows up when you take it out. (excuse the blurry pictures….maybe if you squint, they will look clear.)Then you get to play with sharp knives! (Ok really just carefully cut off the excess dough around the outside). Mine was simple because it was heart shaped.My sister’s required a lot more cutting because she had a horse. Then we turned it over to mark our names on the back and then gave it to the guide for baking. While we waited the 15-20 minutes for our gingerbread to bake, we went to the Pierniki store that is next to the museum and bought (and ate) some delicious gingerbread. Chocolate coated are good, but I like the sugar coated best. And here are our finished (and warm) gingerbread cookies! They tasted good, but not as good as the ones we bought.
BIG HINT: In case you ever come to Poland….There is a charge for the museum and a separate charge to learn how to make gingerbread cookies. Make sure you ask when you first arrive about making a reservation to make the gingerbread. We went in October, not exactly tourist season, and were able to get in that day, although we had to leave and come back. One of the hazards of not being able to speak (or read) Polish and the “ticket lady” not speaking English is that we didn’t realize it until after we had already toured the museum part that the cookie making wasn’t part of our ticket., so we had to buy another ticket/reservation for the cookie making.
After making and baking and eating our cookies, we headed back to the Old City Market Square and checked out of few of the other sights, like the Old City Hall.Next to the City Hall is a fountain, which depicts a young boy playing the violin surrounded by golden frogs.It is a tribute to Janko Muzykant, Torun’s version of the Pied Piper. Legend has it that a witch once cast a curse over the town because she wasn’t welcomed by the townspeople and as a result, the town was overrun by frogs. The mayor offered a sack of gold and his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could get rid of the frogs. A peasant boy appeared and started playing his violin and the frogs enchanted by his music followed him out of town to the woods and the town was saved.
And I’ll leave you with this….across the square was this church, The Church of the Holy Spirit. (Don’t roll your eyes…yes, another church). This one is not as ornate as some other churches, but beautiful nonetheless. It’s worth mentioning that there are several Pierniki shops in Torun, which is about an hour drive from Bydgoszcz, so you don’t have to go to the museum to satisfy your sweet tooth. But when I get a craving for gingerbread, I can just pop down the street from our flat (less than a block) and visit the Toruńskie Pierniki shop right here in Bydgoszcz.