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GINGERBREAD CREATIONS

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Story by Betty Bezzerides

Photos by Ted Bezzerides

There's plenty of new construction in Brookings-Harbor this holiday season – and some of it is edible.

Local artists Violet and Len Burton are once again sponsoring the gingerbread house contest they originated last year at their portside gallery.

Contest entries may be any structure or theme but must be made of edible ingredients and measure no larger than 10-inches by 10 inches by 10 inches on a base not exceeding 12 inches by 18 inches.

"We wanted to start a tradition for the gallery, a project that families and groups could work on together," said Violet.

"It wasn't anything leftover from our childhoods," she added. "It seemed like something creative the community could get involved in."

"Plus it makes the gallery smell good."

A browse through the cookbook section at Chetco Community Public Library reveals the gingerbread house is an old tradition.

Soldiers returning to Europe from the Crusades brought home many spices including ginger, which the English soon turned into a medicinal candy.

By 1400, they were thickening the mix with bread crumbs and fashioning delicate pastry castles. In the early 18th century, cooks tinkered with the recipe to produce a sturdier dough and structural gingerbread was born.

The brothers Grimm popularized the gingerbread house when they retold the Hansel and Gretel folktale in the mid-1800s.

"… they saw that the cottage was made of bread and cakes, and the window panes were of clear sugar." The wicked witch locked Hansel in a cage to fatten him up, Gretel saved the day and the house made of sweets became legendary.

Kits containing pre-baked gingerbread, icing mix and decorations are available at area grocery stores or builders may elect to open their cookbooks and work from scratch like last year's contest winners, Kathy and Mike Ramsay.

Kathy, whose hobby is working with leaded glass, cut out dough for a gingerbread birdhouse using leaded glass patterns.

"The stuff grows when it cooks, though. I think I made four or five batches and ate half of them," she said, laughing. "I ate all the mistakes."

"Make plenty of icing," she added. "It covers a multitude of boo-boos."

To achieve uniformity, this year she said she may try cutting out shapes after the gingerbread is baked but while it's still warm.

The Burtons, who often portray lighthouses in their artwork, crafted a gingerbread replica of Battery Point Lighthouse last year using cookie cutter-like forms. To their surprise, an unexpected visitor came nibbling.

"We set the lighthouse on the kitchen counter to dry," said Violet. "During the night a little shrew ate part of the light tower."

"It was serendipity," she decided, explaining that she filled the hole with yellow gumdrops. "Then it really looked like the light was on."

The Burtons, who built a fisherman's cottage this year, offered ideas to budding architects from their own "lessons learned."

"We divide it in two," said Len. "You can bake the gingerbread one day, then assemble and decorate the next."

"It helps to plan ahead. You need a sturdy base to set the house on (they used a thick piece of cardboard). And if you want to put anything inside the house, remember you have to do it before you stick the roof on."

"Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand," Violet added. "And be patient with the icing. It takes a while for it to set up."

She explained the icing is good for filling in spaces where two pieces of gingerbread don't quite line up. "It's OK to just gob on the frosting. You'll cover it later with candy, anyway."

Some of her favorite decorations include licorice, candy canes and gumdrops.

"Lollipops make good trees and you can color coconut with green food coloring to make it look like grass."

Kathy Ramsay discovered she could make mini-marshmallows resemble smoke curling from a chimney. "Watch out for Red Hots, though," she advised. "They kind of melt into the frosting."

"The most important thing is to have fun with this," Violet said. "Not doing it in a big hurry is important."

Entries for the gingerbread house contest will be accepted at Burtonique Gallery at the Port of Brookings Harbor through noon Dec. 14.

Judging by "People's Choice" begins December 15.

Winners for "most creative" and "most humorous" will be announced at 4 p.m. Dec. 20. Prizes include the winner's choice of a framed photograph by Violet Burton or a print from an original painting by Len Burton.

For information, call the gallery at (541) 469-9522.

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