Have you ever been curious about the nation's gingerbread elite? Even if you weren't, bet you are now. Here, Cake Gumshoe Shannon reports on the scene at the National Gingerbread Competition:
A peppermint forest, a sprinkle laden path, sugary turrets and beams of brown baked gingerbread. This is the stuff that children’s dreams are made of, as are the incredible and edible works of art entered in this year’s famous National Gingerbread House Competition put on by The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.
After months of baking and building, gingerbread architects and purveyors of icing of all ages from across the country have witnessed the judging of their mouth-watering creations. Winning entries are now on display throughout the historic hotel until January 3.
While the name of the contest may conjure pictures of a child’s dilapidated yet endearing four-sided gingerbread home made from a store-bought kit, you’ll find much more among this spicy and sweet collection of entirely edible concoctions.
A marshmallow-laden igloo. A zoo of tasty lions and tigers with caramel cages. A Dutch windwill with spokes of pretzels and chocolate. A cuckoo clock with almond pinecone weights. A castle with a gingerbread princess. Next to a mandate of gingerbread as a building block, imagination is the most important rule of this contest.
Some of my most favorite entries are the most out-of-box inventions such as a festive Egyptian pyramid draped with frosted boughs and holly atop a sugary sweet desert neighbored by a crystal blue sea with a magical sailboat. The base of the boat is made of ice cream cones and is topped by a mast of ruby red licorice and a sail of yellow fruit roll-up.
Then there is the gingerbread house that models a posh Mediterranean villa with a terracotta roof, manicured gardens, a tiled patio and glistening blue fountains that mimic running water, or the gingerbread woven picnic basket filled with fruit and a parade of ants atop an iced picnic blanket.
The grand prize winner of this year’s contest perhaps bends all notions of gingerbread houses with a stunning copper and gold gilded bird cage with two brilliant snow white turtle doves. The base of the bird cage is encircled with perfectly shaped pears and leaves that seem to glow with reflected light (pictured top).
Certainly too beautiful to eat, it’s not hard to see on first glance, why this entry brought home the contest’s ultimate prize, which includes a $3,000 prize check, a two-night club floor stay at The Grove Park Inn, dinner for two, daily breakfast for two and a prize package from Chef Nicholas Lodge including a two-day class at the Nicholas Lodge School in Atlanta, Georgia, not to mention major bragging rights at the next neighborhood cookout or potluck.
While the top winners are interesting to see as a collection, each individual gingerbread creation has a story to tell that’s reflected in the incredible attention to detail and hours of work invested. To hear the stories behind the gingerbread, visit The Grove Park Inn and take part in the “Stories of Gingerbread” guided tours.
The Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Ave., Asheville, NC 1-800-438-5800; Gingerbread Hotline 1-800-413-5778; online at groveparkinn.com.
For more of Shannon Connell’s work, check out her website.