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Celebrate the holiday with these reader-submitted gingerbread houses
Creative ways to carry on long-standing holiday traditions
Gingerbread houses had rather grim beginnings — as in the Brothers Grimm. Online sources can’t pinpoint which came first, gingerbread houses or the fairy tale of “Hansel and Gretel.”
The History Kitchen on pbs.org traces the confections to 16th century Germany, where “the elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition.” Their popularity built up when the Grimms published their story in 1812.
TheSpruceEats.com credits Early German settlers with bringing the lebkuchenhaeusle (gingerbread house) tradition to the Americas, and this year’s Tannebaum Forest in Amana, rooted in German history, featured gingerbread houses made by students from Mary Welsh Elementary School in Williamsburg.
In one translation of the Grimm fairy tale, “a beautiful snow-white bird” led Hansel and Gretel to a “little house built of bread and covered with cakes, (with) windows made of clear sugar.”
The History Kitchen cites “the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread.”
Shakespeare even referenced it in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in the late 1500s: “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”
When pictures of gingerbread constructions began popping up on Facebook in late November, The Gazette invited readers to send in photos and descriptions of their creations. We think they’ve done a deliciously wonderful job.
Browse through the gallery at the top of this article and read more about the submissions below:
Terese Husnik, Shellsburg: Every year the grandkids get together to create their own vision of a great gingerbread house. This year my grandson’s (Will Primrose) vision depicted a restful beach theme. He used brown sugar for the sand and blue M & M's for the water. His mom (Heidi) helped him hot glue toothpicks together for a raft which enables his gummy bear to do some fishing (notice the fish sprinkles in the water). He created a palm tree with a toothpick (trunk) and gummy bear palm fronds. Of course, you need some cocoa puff beach chairs and a cooler of refreshments to relax under the tree. And, every beach hut needs a thatched roof made of shredded wheat. I think he was pretty creative and all that is left for him to do now is to nibble on the treats.
Lori Foster, Springville: My brother’s wife, Wendy Foster of Cedar Rapids, baked several houses, and used royal icing to hold them together. Over the years, she has collected candy just for this purpose. She made decorator icing for us to use. She started doing this several years ago, but this was my first time participating. … I will probably keep it until it falls apart.
Maureen Rauch, Central City: Every year I bake gingerbread houses and assemble them (sometimes with the help of one or two of the grandchildren). The day after Thanksgiving, our grandchildren gather at our house for a fun day of decorating. As near as we can remember, we've been doing this for nine or 10 years (minus 2020). They use mints, M & M's, Skittles, licorice, graham crackers, pretzel sticks, Rolos, gumdrops, Nerds, Airheads, candy canes, chocolate Santas and Jolly Ranchers, all attached with royal icing. The houses become a little more refined every year, but are always individually creative. When finished, they take them home to display (and eat).
Allison Neuhaus, activity director, sent four photos: These beautiful gingerbread houses were created by our residents at Evergreen Estates III (a residential care facility) on Johnson Avenue in Cedar Rapids. They enjoyed decorating with all of the different candies, as well as tasting a few of them. The houses will be displayed at the Nurses' Desk throughout the month of December for everyone to enjoy.
Robert Manders, 61, of Cedar Rapids: This is the second year for our family Gingerbread House competition. We got the idea from a Hallmark Christmas movie. Everyone gets a gingerbread house kit and at the end we have a secret vote as to whose was the best. Out of the six gingerbread houses, I was fortunate to be the first-place finisher this year. I think it was my tiki torches at the entrance and the Quisp cereal on the roof that put me over the top.
Linda Fitz, Cedar Rapids: I found a unicorn gingerbread house kit locally and enjoyed seeing two of my grandkids (Olive, 7, and Milo, 4) and their mama (Erika) put it together. Well, the grandkids headed home to Minneapolis with their daddy the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but my daughter stayed to help provide support for my husband after knee surgery. My daughter decided to get creative and what you see is a beautiful Unicorn Gingerbread Castle Centerpiece on our dining room table.
Nancy Kraft, 72, of Cedar Rapids: I learned about making gingerbread houses while an exchange student in Finland. I started making them in 1987 when our kids were little. We've made one almost every year since then. Now that my daughter (Jennifer Roeder, 37, of Olathe, Kan.) has moved out of state, we make one over the Christmas holiday. My father used to be a Flying Farmer, we made this airplane themed one in December 2017, and mailed the airplanes to him after Christmas.
Sue Martinek, Cedar Rapids: This has been a long-standing tradition. In the beginning years I bought the pre-baked gingerbread pieces and we decorated them. After a couple years of opening up the box and having broken pieces, I was given the Longaberger pottery gingerbread country cabin/house mold. I’ve only made my own gingerbread pieces since then. I try to have the grandkids do almost all the decorating after I get it assembled. This year’s artists are Lauren Price, 20, Rachael Brandon, 20, Zarek Brandon, 9, and Kyran Brandon, 8.
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