The Gingerbread Man and other tales under the Aarne-Thompson 2025: The Fleeing Pancake tale type have a long history. Unfortunately, the origins of this tale are even more obscure than some of the other popular tales listed on the SurLaLune website.
Two of the earliest versions to appear in print were "The Pancake" collected by Peter Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe in Norway in the mid-1800s and "The Thick, Fat Pancake" collected by the Colshorns in Germany and published in 1854. "The Fleeing Pancake" was the most popular version on the European continent in the 19th century. The Gingerbread Man became more popular in the United States during that time.
The annotated version of the tale which appears on this site first appeared in St. Nicholas magazine in 1875, unfortunately without source notes. However, the tale was already well-known at the time and popular with children. It is interesting to note the chain of female storytellers shown in the introduction to this version of the tale. A grandmother told a little girl who is apparently now passing along the story as an adult to another generation. While this introduction is primarily a literary device, it still supports the role of women as storytellers and heads of the kitchen where gingerbread is made. The tale essentially celebrates the domestic arts, especially culinary skills, as well as the ability to create life.
A few years later in 1890, Joseph Jacobs published "Johnny-Cake" in his English Fairy Tales, pulling his text from a version in the American Journal of Folk-Lore. This is one tale where the literary American versions have strongly influenced the literary versions that later appeared in Europe.
Overall, the cumulative tale about an fleeing and finally eaten object is widespread and popular in many areas, perhaps in part due to its suitability and simplicity as a nursery story. According to Katharine Briggs it is "a widespread tale. Thirty-three Irish versions are cited. There are versions cited from Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, Russia, and Slovenia" (Briggs 1970).