Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Perfect Gingerbread House by Susan Alyworth

Thanksgiving in our home is much like the holiday in many other American households. We have the turkey with all the trimmings and invite any of the family who live nearby. This year we had two sons with their combined families who joined us for the day.

Our youngest son, a talented though amateur chef, prepared a "flying pig," his own creation. It began with a turducken (boned chicken inside boned duck inside boned turkey), but then added layers of ham and sausage. He packed different kinds of dressing between the layers of meat. My favorite was the wild rice with sausage, although the fruit stuffing came in a close second. The total  concoction weighed 37 pounds before it went into the oven.

Each of the families added one or more yummy side dishes and everyone brought pies. That gave us a delightful Thanksgiving feast. It also gave us six adults and eight children to enjoy the day. The two eldest grandkids, cousins born two days apart, turned 10 that same week; the baby was 15 months old.

We intended to keep the group through the afternoon, enjoying leftovers and pie into the evening hours. So the challenge: How to keep eight little people entertained through the afternoon, especially considering the weather getting chillier and the darkness coming sooner each evening. That definitely narrowed the chances for outside play. What to do?

We started by having the kiddos decorate the Christmas tree, which we set up the day before. They covered it thoroughly, all the while making sure to keep the breakable and edible ornaments out of the hands of the one- and three-year-olds. Decorating the tree kept everyone busy for the first hour after dinner, but we still had several hours to go. We decided to  build a gingerbread house.

I knew better than to start from scratch. I love gingbread and enjoy making it from a recipe, but with eight assistant cooks in the kitchen? Not a good idea. We planned ahead and bought a kit.

In no time at all, we realized the standard approach of carefully following the lines and decorating according to the design on the package was never going to work. We passed out the parts of the house, one per child, and gave them the freedom to decorate however they liked. We also quickly saw that the frosting that came with the kit wasn't going to do the trick. There wasn't enough and with only one frosting bag to go around, seven little people waited and fussed while one took her (or his) time with the frosting bag.

Our resident chef made some royal icing which he divided into several bags and we passed them around the table. When the candy that came with the kit ran low, I scrounged up some leftovers from Halloween. In the end, every child except the youngest got an opportunity to decorate something.

The resulting house is nothing like the kit's designers intended. Each half of the roof looks quite different from the other. The front wall is nothing like the back wall, and the two side walls are even more different. The tree in the front "yard" is nicely decorated, thanks to one of our five-year-olds, but the gingerbread man who is supposed to reside here is gone. The three-year-old made him so enticing that he ate him on the spot.

Our gingerbread house has become a permanent centerpiece for our dining room table since Thanksgiving Day. It may not be what the designers planned, but we think it's perfect.

Susan is the author of 20 novels. Her newest series explores the four seasons in nearby locales.  Paris in the Springtime and Sunny's Summer are available now. Look for Amber in Autumn and Winter Skye, both coming early in 2020 in e-book and paperback. Find her at 


  1. I have done one gingerbread house, and it didn't turn out well.

  2. Love your gingerbread house, Susan. This actually looks like the one we used to make many years ago. For us, it was a challenging endeavor! :)

  3. My granddaughters did gingerbread houses, and the frosting that came with the kit did not keep the houses together. So my daughter bought houses that we already assembled. The kids decorated those, and they didn't fall apart.

  4. Great idea, Merrillee! I'll keep that in mind for next year.