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Thursday, May 5, 2016

High Art in Gingerbread

Monday, December 20, 2004

SL woman makes holiday magic in her kitchen

The Victorian house is decorated for the holidays. Garland is draped from the porch rails. The snow on the roof and outside the house glistens while a boy shovels the freshly fallen snow from the walk, another boy stands proudly near a newly made snowman and a kitten stands near by.

The 1930s Model A sits idle, its tracks still fresh in the snow, near the gazebo. The garden area is a wonderful site of potted trees and sitting nearby is a magnificent lighthouse.

It sounds like a picture perfect Currier and Ives scene but in fact, it is a scene right out of Pam Green's kitchen!

The materials used to create this scene? Gingerbread, frosting, cinnamon sticks and sticks of gum.

The amazing project is something Pam has created each holiday season for 34 years.

She began on a small scale, like everyone who has ever created a house of gingerbread - with four squares of the brown cookies, frosting, pretzels and a variety of candies. She can't help but chuckle as she thinks about the little house. "I never dreamt they would become this size or this detailed," she said. "But all the detail is what makes them so fascinating."

Or, perhaps, take so much time! She admitted, however, that she enjoys the task and can't help but try to "out do" the previous year's creation.

The key to the project is to have good dough that is workable. She tried out at least a half-dozen different recipes before she found one she liked. She has stuck with that recipe for a number of years.

Like any artist, she continually is thinking of ideas she would like to try in her creations. She takes several days drawing out the design on graph paper and then traces them onto the rolled out gingerbread, cutting away the access. The baking is watched very carefully so the pieces do not burn.

She takes into consideration that there may be some shrinkage during the cooking stages and "hopes and prays" that the house will go together as she has imagined it. The construction portion of the house is like putting a giant puzzle together she pointed out.

This year, Pam's project consisted of the Victorian home and lighthouse that sits in her kitchen and a little country church complete with a frosting angel and a bell tower which she made for a friend.

She strives to use all edible items for the project. The shingles of the house and church are made of 378 pieces of Black Jack gum, purchased through the internet, which have been cut into three pieces each. Fruit Roll Ups were placed in the windows of the church, giving the effect of stained glass. Cinnamon sticks serve as tree trunks for the tiny potted trees.

She prefers to use as much gingerbread as she possibly can and to "add as much detail as I can."

Making the Model A car was a new experience. She began by taking apart a model of a car and made a pattern by placing foil on the pieces. She then traced the pieces onto the dough. The finished product is amazing, complete with running boards, white wall tires and a spare tire attached to the back.

The gazebo was a nice addition to the scene she created this year. The 28" gingerbread lighthouse resembles cobblestone, made by pressing the dough onto a rubber mold. The gingerbread was painted with a combination of red, black and white food coloring to give it the look of rock.

The Victorian house has 135 pieces to it not including the tiny gingerbread flowers used as a border on the multi-level roof. Sometimes remembering where they all go is also a challenge.

Pam, a cook for the Storm Lake High School, has been a cake-decorator for 28 years. Many of the decorating techniques used in the gingerbread creations are ones she has used in her business.

She is quite appreciative of the school for allowing her time off to complete her project and to prepare for an annual open-house to share her creation and her homemade candies and cookies.

She has passed on her recipe to her daughter, Cheryl, now 34, who doesn't have near the time as Pam does but has created a few of her own gingerbread scenes. It would please Pam if Cheryl keeps the tradition alive in her own holiday festivities.

She realizes the project is time-consuming - she has had "all-nighters" during the assembly process - but that isn't enough to sway her away from making a gingerbread creation each holiday season.

She gets just as anxious about the finished product as do her friends and family members. She, in fact, is so proud of the gingerbread houses that they are the subject for the family Christmas cards each year.

"It's always so peaceful with the snow sparkling," she said of the scene. She can't help but sit and admire it.

The creations remain up until spring and then are destroyed. And she begins writing down ideas for the next project.

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