Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Today is National Gingerbread House Day

According to one of my favorite odd websites, NationalDayCalendar.com, December 12th was designated some time ago as Gingerbread House Day in the United States. Exact details of its birth aren't known, but this celebratory day gives folks and families across the country an annual day to create whimsical, edible holiday decorations, or the occasion to haul out gingerbread houses from past years to display throughout the holiday season. A well-made gingerbread house, properly stored between holidays, can last indefinitely, and continue as a yearly display, or can be broken up and eaten at any time.
The heavy, stiff dough used to make the dense "cookie" pieces that make up a gingerbread house are so hard that there's actually very little difference in the texture of a freshly created sculpture and one that has been trotted out each holiday season for a couple of generations, or longer. I read this week about a family that has brought out the same treasured gingerbread heirloom each Christmas for more than 60 years, created by the current generation's great-grandmother in the 1950s.
There's a certain elegance to this simple gingerbread house.
A simple design like the one at the left, sparsely decorated with white icing "snow" and just two candied cherries, adds a little warmth to a holiday buffet table.
The elaborate design of the larger house below seems to have dozens of individually created panels of art stretching around the confection. It reminds me of Commercial Street's old Shop Therapy building, painted by dear departed artist Bob Gasoi. A poof of cotton candy makes the smoke coming out of the chimney. The only rule for making a gingerbread house is that every element of its construction and decoration must be edible.
This elaborate artwork reminds me of the old Shop Therapy.
A soft gingerbread in a cake form is one of my very favorite desserts, but the thin, rigid variety used in making a gingerbread house is baked from a very stiff dough meant to cook into very hard, sturdy planks, or be cut in particular shapes like the two large rectangles that usually form the roof of a simple gingerbread house.
This stiff dough seems to date back to at least the tenth century AD, when an Armenian monk brought his firm gingerbread to Europe, where French Christians used it in various religious ceremonies and often baked it into shapes meant to represent images of saints.
The Brothers Grimm seem to be the first to have thought of a house made of gingerbread, writing it into their children's story Hansel and Gretel. From there it seems to be the Germans who began creating festive, decorated little cottages during the holiday season.
Two young boys pose with gingerbread houses they decorated.
Decorating a gingerbread house can be great holiday fun for kids, but adults seem to enjoy this cheery, creative outlet just as much. The annual Holly Folly celebration in PTown now includes a chance for folks to create their very own gingerbread masterpiece.
Try your own artistic hand using this recipe for gingerbread, complete with simple instructions, from the Food Network. A recipe for royal icing, which acts as the edible "glue" that holds all of the pieces and decorations in place, is included. This recipe will make a small house about six inches tall, but you could double the recipe (and measurements for the pattern you will create) to make a house about a foot tall.

You can make tiny gingerbread houses as party favors, or provide guests with all the goodies to make their own
You can also get a kit online, or buy cast iron molds that will give you gingerbread panels textured to resemble a shingled roof, for example. Small candies like M&Ms, jelly beans, gumdrops, Dots, Smarties, Red Hots and many others can be "glued" into place with royal icing. Pretzels, licorice laces, cereals and other edibles can be used as well. Cinnamon Toast Crunch, for example, can become shingles on the roof.
Royal icing can be piped on to make icicles hanging from the roof, or tinted green and "painted" onto overturned ice cream cones to make evergreen trees. It firms up within a few minutes. The icing then hardens permanently, can last a lifetime, and will never spoil, should you want to preserve your creation for future holidays. Or you can decide to eat the whole house and all decorations as the holiday season comes to an end.

Michelle Obama debuted this fine gingerbread replica of the White House made for Christmas, 2016
Visit Shari's Berries online to see 31 Amazing Gingerbread House Ideas to get inspired to build your own gingerbread creation, or simply to enjoy photos of fabulous designs ranging from a charming log cabin to a three-story Victorian. You'll find a gingerbread tree house, an Asian pagoda, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and the 150 pound White House replica that Michelle Obama introduced in 2016, adding a lovely new focal point in the long-running tradition of First Ladies decorating the White House for Christmas.
It seems that First Ladies Martha Washington and Dolley Madison each had great recipes for soft gingerbread cakes, but it was Lou Hoover who began decorating the White House Christmas tree with hard gingerbread during her tenure as First Lady, between 1929 and 1933. Still, it wasn't until Pat Nixon's time as First Lady that the first gingerbread house appeared among the Christmas decorations at the White House. Next came the first of the gingerbread villages that have become part of the holiday decorating tradition at the White House.
Start your own Christmas gingerbread tradition. See if you might find a gingerbread house at a holiday craft fair. You may be able to find one at the holiday market, sponsored by The Canteen, running Fridays through Sundays through January 1st. Or, for a unique afternoon of enjoyment, try making your own special gingerbread house for the holidays.

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