Gingerbread house construction is sweet
12/4/12 Betsy Crosswhite of Wilmette and her daughter Jenna, 3, put the finishing touches on their creation at the Gingerbread House Making program at the Community Recreation Center in Wilmette. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:14AM
WILMETTE — Of the many challenges modern homebuilders face, the temptation to eat one’s construction materials probably doesn’t rank high on the list.
Unless, of course, one is building a gingerbread house, where cement and stucco looks and tastes suspiciously like fluffy mounds of icing sugar, eggs, and cream of tartar.
“It’s not what you want to eat a lot of,” Judee Sims said as she whipped up another fluffy bowl of the smooth white stuff. “But if you get a fingerful it’s kind of sweet.”
Sims should know. She’s an art teacher at the Wilmette Park District’s community recreation center and for many years she and fellow art instructor Jan Borre have helped usher in the holiday season by holding gingerbread house workshops. The popular classes attract dozens of children from three to pre-teen every year.
“We started offering the class for older kids, because some parents really liked doing this as a way of connecting with their kids for the holidays,” Borre said Dec. 4 as she walked around and made sure every building team had enough supplies of graham crackers (which take the place of real gingerbread wallboard), sugar-wafers, jellybeans, mini shredded wheat pieces, vanilla cookies and candy and chocolate kisses to make their house a colorful success (and a future snack bar, according to some of the moms familiar with the operation.)
Over the years, Borre and Sims have seen some remarkable triumphs of substance over style in the world of gingerbread architecture. Borre keeps a picture of just such a sugar-cemented folly – cocooned in shredded wheat, spattered and festooned with white and green frosting – on her phone, perhaps as a reminder that sometimes an artist’s taste does indeed reside in his or her mouth.
But for the most part, the girls and boys who teamed up with moms, aunts and other grown-up assistants in the workshop were proceeding with admirable restraint (even if some of that restraint sometimes owed more to the senior partners than the junior ones.)
Three-year-old Harper Nowlin of Evanston was carefully adding mini-wheat shingles to her house; the chunky breakfast bits were her favorite working material, she admitted.
Harper was also indulging her right to do quality materials testing, aunt Timon Andora laughed: “she’s eating a little frosting, putting a little on the house, eating a little more.”
Daniel Lahti, of Winnetka, was looking forward to decorating the roof beam of his house with red and green-foiled chocolate kisses, although the 3-year-old also whispered to mom Jennifer that he liked jellybeans, too. His older brother and sister were going to make their own houses later, in Borre’s afternoon class, their mother said. In fact, making gingerbread houses is a bit of an annual event in their household; there’s a picture of her and Daniel sitting next to a completed house from last year’s workshop.
Over at another table, Wilmette resident Colleen Shean was helping daughter Catherine, 3, frost the walls of her creation. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Catherine smiled wordlessly in agreement, then went back to the important task of getting some more frosting where it needed to go. If just a tiny bit of it needed to go for a taste test. What fun would a gingerbread house be without that?