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Toruń gingerbread (Polish: pierniki toruńskie, German: Thorner Lebkuchen) is a traditional Polish gingerbread that has been produced since the Middle Ages in the city of Toruń (Thorn).
- Gingerbread covered with chocolate: "Katarzynki" (Catherine's gingerbread), Gingerbread hearts, Gingerbread hearts covered with chocolate
- Filled gingerbread covered with chocolate
- Gingerbread iced
- Gingerbread iced, filled
- Classic gingerbread
- Decorative gingerbread
- Gingerbread monuments
Old Polish sayings connect Toruń with making some form of "pierniki", and the expansion of the craft regarding making "pierniki" started in 13th century. Well developed bee-keeping, a fertile soil and a trade route leading through this area made this happen.
A considerable factor behind the development of gingerbread-making in Toruń was its excellent location. Situated on high-quality soil, the area provided fine wheat for flour, while nearby villages provided honey. The necessary spices were brought from remote countries, mainly India, via a route through the Black Sea and Lviv to Germany, where the spices were transported by north-German trade companies. Some also came by sea to the port of Gdańsk.
The first mention of Toruń gingerbread comes from 1380 and speaks of a local baker called Niclos Czana. The product quickly gained fame across Poland and abroad. Toruń and the city of Nuremberg, itself famous for special pancakes, were eager to protect the secrets of their recipes from each other. Finally in 1556, they formed an agreement by which each city could bake the specialities of the other.
The artisans weren't the only ones engaged in the production of the delicacy. In the 16th century, the Cistercian Order on the outskirts of Toruń prospered mainly due to this activity and even sold their product to other countries. During the 17th century, the well-known workshop of the Grauer family appeared. The city authorities were supportive of the lucrative trade and issued several tax breaks on spice imports and export by bakers' guilds so that the trade could be increased.
In the 18th and 19th century, the city saw a fall in baking and other craftsmanship. In 1825, only three bakers were left. With the advent of capitalism, large companies took over from the local craftsmen and mass production of the gingerbread ensued.
The largest factory was owned by Gustaw Weese, based on tradition dating from 1760, when Jan Weese started to bake gingerbread. Gustaw Traugott Wesse inherited a small workshop after his father Andrzej in 1824 and changed it into a large company. In 1875 "Gazeta Toruńska" wrote on New Year's Eve that due to demand it was even sold in Africa. Other exotic places of export included Turkey, Japan, China and Honolulu. In 1913, Gustaw Weese, a descendant of Gustaw Traugott Weese, constructed a factory which, after World War I ended, was employing over 500 workers. Gustaw Wese sold it in January 1939 to the Polish company "Społem" and left for his other gingerbread factory in Germany. The company in Toruń still exists and is the oldest confectionery company in Poland today and one of the oldest of Europe.
Besides Gustaw's factory there was also the Hermann Thomas company founded in 1857, which in 1907 employed 200 workers. Another important company engaged in the production of gingerbread was founded by Jan Ruchniewicz in 1907. The enterprise prospered quite successfully and had 50 workers. It was especially known for the ornamental gingerbread topped with Toruń's crest.
Toruń gingerbread in Polish culture
Pierniki Toruńskie, as they are known in Poland, are an icon of Poland's national cuisine. They have been praised in literature, poetry, and other fine arts. They have traditionally been presented as a gift by the city of Toruń to Polish leaders, artists and others who have distinguished themselves in Polish society, and to Polish kings. Baking molds survive with likenesses of Zygmunt III and his wife, Władysław IV and Queen Cecylia Renata, and with the royal seal of Władysław IV with Polish eagle and royal crown together with crests of provinces. Other notables who have received gift gingerbread from the city include Maria Kazimiera Sobieska (widow of King Jan III Sobieski), Bishop of Kujawy Antoni Ostrowski, French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte (during whose visit the whole city was illuminated and bells were rung all over the city), Zygmunt Krasiński (one of Poland's Three Bards), painter Jan Matejko, actress Helena Modrzejewska, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, pianist Artur Rubinstein, poet Czesław Miłosz, Lech Wałęsa and Pope John Paul II.
Since at least the Middle Ages, pierniki have been connected with Toruń in Polish proverbs and legends. One legend claims that gingerbread was a gift from the Queen of the Bees to the apprentice Bogumił. A 17th-century epigram by poet Fryderyk Hoffman speaks of the four best things in Poland: "Gdańsk vodka, Toruń gingerbread, Kraków ladies, and Warsaw shoes".
In the 18th century, Józef Epifani Minasowicz wrote that if one doesn't drink vodka, one is not worthy to taste gingerbread; and Jakub Kazimierz Haur wrote that peasants ate bread as eagerly as gingerbread.
The 18th-century poet and fabulist Ignacy Krasicki, who favored pierniki, wrote of them in his celebrated poem, Monachomachia. In 1854, Adam Pług wrote of a father returning from a fair and bringing his children a gift of gingerbread. Zygmunt Kaczkowski, in his Gniazdo Nieczujów, spoke of it as an exceeding noble food.
When the precocious 15-year-old composer Frédéric Chopin visited the Dziewanowski family at Szafarnia, a small village near the river Drwęca, he stopped over in Toruń, where he was a guest of his godfather, the penologist Fryderyk Florian Skarbek. Chopin sampled the city's famous confection and grew so fond of it that he wrote a letter about it to his friend Jan Matuszyński. He even sent some to Warsaw. In honor of this, Poland's largest producer of Toruń gingerbread, the Kopernik confectionery company, has created a special heart-shaped gingerbread called Scherzo, bearing Chopin's likeness on the wrapper.
Toruń holds an annual celebration of gingerbread, Święto Piernika (the Gingerbread Festival).
There are two main producers of Toruń gingerbread: the confectionary factory "Kopernik" S.A., and the Toruń Bakery. The first upholds its legal rights to the brand name and is the successor to a company that was founded in 1760 by Jan Wesse. The second company was formed by Toruń bakers who specialized in producing gingerbread; its aim is to spread knowledge of the craft and to produce fine gingerbread for restaurants, parties and elite meetings.
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