Some people take their gingerbread housebuilding very seriously indeed, bringing a level of skill, dedication and creativity to their construction that compares with the folks who build rolling sculptures for the Kingston Artists’ Soapbox Derby in August, or who carve vegetable masterpieces for the Bakery’s Night of 100 Pumpkins in October. Now we have a new seasonal tradition in our backyard: the Hudson Valley Gingerbread Competition, whose winners can be seen on display at Mohonk Mountain House. “It’s the first ever,” said the resort’s general manager, Eric Gullickson, as the judging got underway last Sunday afternoon. The new event was scheduled as the kickoff for Mohonk’s annual Community Week, so local residents can even check out the prizewinning gingerbread houses for free until this Friday, December 9.
“We’re very happy with the entries we’ve received this year,” said marketing director Lauren Peress. More than 50 artisans entered the contest, in three categories: Adults, Juniors (ages 10 to 17) and Mohonk Staff and Families. “The turnout for the first year has been terrific,” Gullickson agreed. “The quality and creativity is amazing.”
The panel of judges consisted of celebrity chefs John Novi of the Depuy Canal House and Ric Orlando of New World Home Cooking; tourism guru Josiah Brown of New York’s Best Experiences; WDST Radio vice president Ike Phillips; Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers; and Mohonk Mountain House board member Jackie Appeldorn. And they had their work cut out for them, with a stunning selection of fanciful gingerbread constructions from which to choose three prizewinners and two honorable mentions in each category.
Besides general artistic quality, judging parameters included several technical criteria. There was a size limitation and requirements that the constructions consist of at least 50 percent gingerbread and that their components be handmade. That last restriction didn’t rule out the creative assemblage of many different edible details: rail fences and woodpiles made of pretzels, gumdrop-covered Christmas lights, roofs shingled with chewing gum or Chex cereal, a log cabin sided with cinnamon sticks, Shawangunk conglomerate cliffs made from piles of Rice Krispies treats. One of this correspondent’s personal favorites was a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, thatched with shredded wheat and surrounded by a courtyard of hexagonal cobblestones, otherwise known as oyster crackers.
The top prize in the Adult category went to Lisa M. Carbone for Gazebo in Winter, a gorgeously realistic model of one of Mohonk’s rustic structures perched atop a sparkling frosty boulder in a glazed-sugar lake, accessed by a walkway of gingerbread planks. The fine detail was exquisite, including shrubbery made from candied sprigs of winter savory. The second-place ribbon went to Liz Dahmen and Briana Myers for their charming Sleepy Winter Forest, a sort of hobbit-house on a platform that revolved to reveal snoozing bears, rabbits and birds through the rear windows. Third prize went to Mohonk Secret Fairy House by Tara-Lieb-Kaywork, covered with beautifully hand-molded candy leaves, ferns, shamrocks and mushrooms.
In the Junior category, siblings Emilie, Petros, Timothy and Joshua Bunch took first prize for their Little Cabin in the Woods, with a stream running nearby and woodland visitors including deer and an owl. In second place, Josephine Gravatt evoked Hagrid’s Hut from the grounds of Hogwarts, roofed with the top and bottom slices of a pumpkin. Sadie Todd took third prize for her tropical pink, balcony-sprouting Summer Dream House.
Mountain House employees also got into the competitive spirit. The Ginger Girls — Donna Brown, Nicole Swanander and Stacy Zappone — nabbed first place with their Mohonk Lego Firehouse, largely built from candy molded in the shapes of Lego blocks. Second prize went to the Mohonk Marketing Committee — Lauren Peress, Emily McNamara, Ben Fishman, Kwan Man Cheng and Megan Carter — for Christmas Kingdom, a medieval village complete with an alehouse, overlooked by an icing-filigreed castle. Carmen Doyon’s Frosted Windowpanes took third place in the Employees category, featuring a barn with illuminated green sugar-glass panels and a fountain shaped from mints.
According to Peress, the top five finishers in each category will be kept on display at various locations at Mohonk Mountain House until the first week in January. The three blue-ribbon winners will be grouped around the central staircase. It’s also a good time to view the 15 decorated Yule trees scattered around the property, or go for a spin in the skating rink.