Discovering our Ancestors' Travels and Travails

Toruń Gingerbread

When I visited Poland in 2004, I toured Copernicus House in Toruń. It was where Nicolaus Copernicus, the famous 16th century astronomer, had lived, and it is now a museum. I remember we visited on a rainy day, because we were asked to put booties over our shoes before walking on the old wooden floors. The Old Town felt medieval, and there were still Gothic buildings and Teutonic walls. The city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I did not know at the time that our father John Maciejewski‘s grandparents (and perhaps his father) had been born in that area. Nieżywięć, where Jan Maciejewski and Weronika Lewandowska were married in 1869, is fewer than thirty miles from Toruń. Szembruczek, the village of Marcin Szczepanski and Anna Kalinowska, is about twenty miles from Nieżywięć.

near Torun

Torun in Poland


Toruń is famous for its Gingerbread, called piernik, and it was sold in almost every souvenir shop and bakery. I brought some home to share. This Christmas I made gingerbread, and shared some that was purchased with my family in the spirit of John Maciejewski’s ancestors.


Wikipedia has an article about Toruń Gingerbread. One section is

Toruń Gingerbread in Polish Culture

Pierniki Toruńskie, as they are known in Polish, are an icon of Poland’s national cuisine. 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 king Sigismund III of Poland, king Władysław IV Vasa and Queen Cecilia Renata as well as the royal seal with the Polish eagle and crests of several provinces. Other notables who have received gift gingerbread from the city include Marie Casimire Louise (French princess and widow of King John III Sobieski), 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 Modjeska, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, pianist Artur Rubinstein, poet Czesław MiłoszLech 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: “The vodka of Gdańsk, Toruń gingerbread, the ladies of Kraków, and the Warsaw shoes”.

…When the precocious 15-year-old composer Frédéric Chopin visited 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 friends and colleagues. 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 called Święto Piernika (the Gingerbread Festival).

Comments on: "Toruń Gingerbread" (6)

  1. […] was born here. I was surprised to learn that their parents had been born half a world away in Nieżywięć and Szembruczek, small villages that were barely twenty miles apart. Although I thought I had solved a puzzle when I learned that my great-grandfather Marcin […]


  2. […] West Prussia, now Kujawsko-Pomorskie in north-central Poland, where my father’s grandparents and father were born, […]


  3. […] I wrote about how my grandparents grew up and were married in the US, but their parents’ places of origin were only twenty miles apart half a world away… […]


  4. […] visited Malbork and Toruń, but I did not know how close we were to Szembruczek and Nieżywięć, the places of origin for my father’s father and his Maciejewski/Lewandowski and […]


  5. […] gave another clue, suggesting that the DNA match is on my paternal side. This makes sense, since my paternal ancestors came from West Prussia, in areas called Marienwerder and […]


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