Torun, a university town in central Poland is “World famous in Poland” for two things: Copernicus…and gingerbread.
Given my boy is only 3 years old, and has a decidedly sweet tooth, I decide to leave the astronomical treasures of the town for a subsequent visit and focus on that which would, at his age, hold more sway…pierniki.
This is not difficult. When you arrive in Torun pierniki (gingerbread) greets you – or confronts you depending on your personal prejudices towards this subject – at every juncture. Plain gingerbread in every possible shape and form, iced gingerbread, chocolate coated gingerbread (Katarzynki), gingerbread with all sorts of delightful fruit or nut based fillings to tempt the palate of even the most discerning of connoisseurs. Stores specialising in gingerbread and nothing else are stocked, floor to ceiling, with an array of colourful packaging containing delicious treats for tourists and locals alike to purchase and enjoy… by the kilo! A veritable Aladdin’s cave of jewelled sweets.
Whilst exploring the contents of these shops is adventure enough, for those who truly want to indulge in their passion for pierniki, there is also the gingerbread museum, a fully functional 16th century Gingerbread “factory”. Here, visitors can learn, in delightful (if not always easily understandable) prose the secrets of making gingerbread to timeworn recipes originating from this town. Children are provided with spices: cardamom, cloves and a pinch of pepper, as well as honey with which to make the dough. They are then given rolling pins and ornamental wooden gingerbread molds and encouraged to try their hand at the skill of making the sweet biscuits for which Torun is most famous. While the biscuits are baking they can listen to stories and legends about the town they are visiting.
The Gingerbread Museum is at Ulica Rabianska, 9 Torun, 87-100 Poland and is open from 9am till 6pm daily. It is a good idea to check availability and book – even on the same day – as the museum can be overrun by tourists and school groups – especially as holiday season approaches in June/July. Unfortuantely we missed out on a tour due to the final tour being overbooked and our well-meaning hosts insisted on our eating a proper obiad before visiting the museum …and so missing the earlier sessions. But still were able to loiter, have a bit of a listen and play with the dough.
Tours are available in English although a surcharge applies. The English language option is recommended for non-native speakers as the tour and instructions are delivered by Medieval master gingerbreadmakers and their trainees, in beautiful “old Polish” which can be difficult to understand, especially for children.
Entry is 8PLN for kids and 9.50PLN for adults. Disabled children and youth are admitted free of charge but the museum is in a kamiennica in the old town and entered via a rather long internal staircase – so access with a wheelchair could be challenging.
The museum also has a gift shop where, if your personally baked treats are not enough to satisfy your tastebads you can top up to your heart’s content. This is definitely one attraction we will be honouring with a repeat visit.
One weekend every June, Torun holds a Swieto Piernika (Gingerbread festival). This is a musical artistic and cultural festival during which visitors can observe in detail every step of the production process involved in making Torunskie pierniki: the grinding of spices, milling of flour, weighing ingredients, loading the ingredients onto horse-drawn carts. These are accompanied by millers stories of working the flour mill, legends and stories about gingerbread and displays of traditional gingerbread designs.
What: Zywe Muzeum Piernika (Gingerbread Museum)
Where: Ulica Rabianska 9, 7-100 Torun, Poland
Open: 9am till 6pm daily – or other times by appointment. Tours commence on the hour.
Admission: Children and students 8 PLN, Adults 9.50 PLN, Disabled children and youth – free. Prices for demonstration and explanationin languages other than Polish: Children and students 9.50 PLN, Adults 11 PLN