I have a taste for ginger. I like ginger tea, ginger brandy, ginger ale, ginger beer, pickled ginger, ginger snaps, and gingerbread. I have been known to binge on ginger, dunking ginger snaps in ginger tea. I was first inspired to order a drink called a Dark and Stormy because one of the principal ingredients is ginger beer. In fact, the one recipe I was inspired to make after watching Food Network for years was a Three-Ginger Cookie that contained fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and crystallized (candied) ginger. (It was from Ina Garten. Among the things I learned between baking my first and second batch was that when she says jumbo eggs, she means jumbo eggs, not medium, which is what I usually have on hand. But I digress.)
Recently, however, I learned another meaning for ginger. Apparently, it also means a person who has red hair. It can be a pejorative term in British English, possibly because of its associations with red-haired, freckled Irish people, with whom the English have not always been friendly. A quick check of the definition and connotations reveals that gingers are said to be descended from Prometheus, fiery in temperament, and likely to be featured in pop girl groups. Wikipedia has an entire section devoted to discrimination against gingers and even hate crimes against them.
Famous gingers in my life have been my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my husband. My husband was technically a ginger only from the nose down. He had a fine red beard and mustache, but hair of an unassuming brown. (Of course, now he is gray above the eyebrows as well as beneath the nose.) My grandmother Winnie Rose was also a natural ginger and kept her hair dyed that color until her husband died, when it was replaced with a beautiful snowy white.
In other words, I have the ginger gene in my family tree, though it didn’t express itself in me. (The freckles did. If I had been born a redhead, my mother would have named me Winnie after my grandmother. I don’t know whether that would have been a good thing or a bad thing, as far as teasing goes. But I digress. Again.)
In my younger years, I decided to catch up with my genes and dye my hair, if not true ginger, at least auburn. Gradually, I became bold enough to add more red to the mix. Once when I was wearing an Ireland t-shirt and flaunting my auburn hair, someone asked me if I was Irish. I replied, “No, I had to pay extra for this.” I’m going to Ireland later this spring and intend to have auburn hair again for the occasion. I’ll at least be an honorary ginger.
Another meaning I have learned for ginger is what I always called an orange cat. Thanks principally to Hermione Granger, I now know that such cats are also called gingers. My husband is quite fond of ginger cats, preferentially selecting them when we need a new cat. I have even heard these cats called red cats, though I think that’s a little inaccurate. They’re not really a color I would call red. But then again, I think red hair is not usually the same shade as a fire engine, except among the more adventurous colorists who have tired of pink and purple.
What all that means is that I love all kinds of gingers – the flavor, the hair, and the cats! Life would be a lot duller without them.