A sweet tradition

Monday, December 3, 2012

The baker holds a tray of fresh gingerbread man cookies. A young girl holding a cookie is reaching for her grandma standing next to her, who is busy looking at freshly made cake being held by the baker's wife. The cases are filled with glazed donuts, cake doughnuts, cinnamon and carmel rolls, bismarks oozing with jelly, cakes of all sorts, fruit and cream pies, cookies and brownies, and a whole rack filled with breads. Elegant wedding cakes are in the window.

You can almost smell the fresh baked goods and hear the conversations going on in Pam's Cakes and More Bakeshoppe and for sure the fresh baked goods get the taste buds going.

It is the perfect scene - and it is small enough to fit on Pam Green's kitchen cupboard. Incredibly, all of the pieces are edible from gingerbread to gum paste.

For 42 years, Pam, of Storm Lake, has been a gingerbread artist, beginning with a small house made of four square pieces of gingerbread, frosting, pretzels and a variety of candies. Each year since she has come up with different ideas, becoming more elaborate, detailed and time-consuming each time.

Her tools include homemade gingerbread (she has been using the same recipe for many years), gum paste (very easy to mold into lifelike creations), frosting and many times, old fashioned Black Jack gum which makes great shingles. It is important that the entire scene is edible - though she wouldn't recommend it!

She never runs short of ideas for her creations and she relishes the challenge each has given her.

She has wanted to create a bakery for some time - and this was the year. The doughnuts in the display cases are about half the size of an Cheerio, the cookies even smaller and the pies and layer cakes are about the diameter of a nickel. They are realistic-looking and in reality, it would most likely be much easier and quicker to make the real items rather than the mini versions. But that is the challenge that she likes.

The floor of the bakery, made of gum paste, has a marbled-effect, the ceiling has been textured (by dipping a dish cloth in the frosting and dabbing it on, and the flocked-wallpaper effect has been achieved by using edible sugar sheets. (Applying the sheets was just like applying real wall paper, she said. It was necessary to make sure the patterns matched up.)

Sitting in the corner of the bakery are Red Wing crocks she made from the gum paste, complete with the writing a real one would have.

Outside of the bakery there is a dusting of fresh snow (made of donut sugar), snow-covered pine trees and leafless trees. A man is on side walk carrying a loaf of French bread, a young boy sits on a bench eating his purchase and other people are on the side walk.

The planters in the front contain leafless bushes, the black dirt (crushed Oreos) are dusted with snow.

The bake shop walls are made entirely of gingerbread, pressed and painted to give the appearance of brick.

Pam got a late start on the project this year and almost didn't do one this year but she knew it wouldn't be Christmas without the gingerbread creation on her cupboard.

Even after 42 years of creating the gingerbread scenes, Pam still gets excited when she begins working on her creations.

All of them take a great dealing of planning including designing, drawing and cutting out, as if it were a real house she were building. Some have taken several weeks to put together but in the end, it is always worth it to see the faces of the visitors to her home.

She has created many Victorian scenes, though no two have ever been the same. A few years ago she created a frontier town complete with a gingerbread sheriff looking out for the other gingerbread residents. and there has also been a Main Street with three busy businesses - complete with colorful cars and a park scene with kids enjoying the snow. Santa's workshop, elves and gift-filled sleigh were created the last two years.

One year she combined the nativity scene and Santa, bringing a tremendous feeling of Christmas joy, and last year she had a train and depot scene.

Each year the creations remain secret to most people until the unveiling at their completion. The scene will remain on her kitchen counter for a few more months - after all that work, she enjoys looking at it - and then most of it will be destroyed though she does keep some of the items she thinks she may use again. Her many photos will be her reminder of all the work that has gone into the scenes that have been enjoyed by so many.

She isn't ready to quit yet. She'd like to make it 45 years of creating and from then, she will have to see.

Friends who have seen this year's creation tell her they think it is her best yet - but then again, she hears that each year.

"Each is so unique in its own right."