Home Sweet Home: Rowan Museum hosts gingerbread house fundraiser

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 8, 2014

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — Not long into decorating her gingerbread house at the Rowan Museum Sunday afternoon, 9-year-old Olivia Herrin, holding a piece of candy, asked a pertinent question:

“Can I eat this?”

Olivia wasn’t talking about the house, just the candy. It turns out a lot of candy and icing — especially, the icing — were consumed Sunday before close to 100 beautifully decorated gingerbread houses went out the door, evidence of another successful fundraiser for the museum.

As if just decorating the houses wasn’t enough, the participants also found ways to create sidewalks, fish ponds, snowmen and scenes with sleighs and reindeer on the grounds outside their houses.

It wasn’t a competition, but sometimes you had to envy the expertise brought to some of the tables.

Chad Vriesema and Mike Holloman were cases in point. Both men are general contractors — Vriesema in Salisbury, Holloman in Greenville — and they added many extra details to their children’s houses.

“We always got to do it bigger and better,” Holloman said of guys in their line of work.

Holloman was working side-by-side with his 5-year-old son, Jake. His wife, Jennifer, supervised close by.

“The shingles were my idea,” Jennifer said of the nicely executed red and green rooftop ,made predominantly of gum candy and candy corn.

The Hollomans spent the weekend in Salisbury and Spencer. They first attended the Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum Saturday, stayed overnight,  had lunch at a local restaurant and then finished off the day making their gingerbread house at the museum.

When booking her Polar Express tickets online, Jennifer Holloman saw a link to the gingerbread house activity the next day and signed up for that, too.

While his older daughter, Lydia, was working away on her own gingerbread house, Vriesema took over the decorating on daughter Abigail’s house. Abigail was eating candy instead, her father explained.

Vriesema built a separate entrance into the gingerbread house’s front door and found creative ways to use marshmallow rope.

The homemade icing that Ann Miller, alias “Gingerbread Guru,” makes for everyone out of powdered sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar is the equivalent of Elmer’s Glue for gingerbread houses. It holds all the sweet decorative materials in place.

Lydia Vriesema, 7, simply described it as “really yummy glue.”

What will happen to her gingerbread house at home?

“It becomes decoration, and when we’re done with all the parties, we start eating it,” Lydia said.

The secret behind a good gingerbread house-making experience is building the house ahead of time and giving it a chance to settle, stabilize and become strong. That’s why Rowan Museum board members put together the frames of  most of the gingerbread houses — 77 of them, in fact — last Tuesday.

More houses had to assembled later in the week and even on Sunday morning. Overall, the museum had 91 reservations for gingerbread houses and that didn’t include some walk-ins Sunday.

Rowan Museum Executive Director Kaye Brown Hirst said it was the most successful gingerbread day to date. All year long Hirst looks for candy and other things, such as cereals, snacks and cookies, that would make good decorating items.

“It’s just fun,” Hirst said of the annual activity, “especially if I shop well.”

Frosted shredded wheat, for example, is the perfect thing to put on a roof so it looks like thatched shingles with snow on them.

Hirst credits Miller for making an icing that’s easy for kids to work with — it’s not as stiff as you might find in other gingerbread house kits, she said.

The kinds of gingerbread houses made Sunday can last several years, Hirst said, mainly because of all of the preservatives in the gingerbread and the hard candies. Keep them in the cool and secured in plastic wrap, she advised.

People even bring their old gingerbread houses to Hirst sometimes for pre-holiday repairs. “If something falls off, you glue it,” she said.

An added bonus to the gingerbread house decorating was a chance for the children to meet and talk with Santa and Mrs. Claus, handled beautifully by  Mitch and Katherine Houck.

This was the fourth consecutive year Grayson Smith, 7, has decorated a gingerbread house and taken it home from the museum. Two of the previous three are displayed on Jan and Tim Smith’s dining room table.

Besides his parents, Grayson had encouragement Sunday from friends Deanna Rainey and Tim Sitlinger.

Jan Corriher Smith said her son talks about and looks forward to the gingerbread exercise every year. Two weeks ago, the family was at Grove Park Inn and picked up a few inspirations from the gingerbread houses on display there.

“Mr. Clyde gave him that idea,” Jan Smith said of some pretzels for window panes and candy canes for sidewalks. “I was tickled, because Clyde is so artistic, and I’m not.”

Working diligently next to Grayson was his dad, Tim. “He likes being creative, too,” Jan said.

Julie Upp brought her niece, Kaley Pfister, to the gingerbread-decorating extravaganza as a way to celebrate Kaley’s 7th birthday Friday.

What was Kaley going to do with her gingerbread house once it was home?

“Ummm … eat it,” Kaley said after a thoughtful pause.

But it raised the second most pertinent question of the day.

“How do we get it home?” Upp asked, already equipped with the answer. “Her mom is coming for it.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.