Saint Anselm students house visions of winning annual gingerbread building contest
"Last year, we built a pirate ship and it came out really bad," said Anderson.
But this year, Anderson and teammates Brendan McCormick, Ben Berube and Brendan Mullin are coming in as contenders to the annual Gingerbread House Competition at St. Anselm College.
"This year, we have a blue print," said Anderson as he unfolded a sheet of paper with a diagram of a gingerbread train.
Once the team has all their supplies lined up, they started shaping a mound of snow with vanilla frosting. All eight hands were buried in icing.
"We take gingerbread extremely seriously," explained McCormick.
And so does the rest of St. Anselm College.
On Wednesday night, Davidson Dining Hall was packed with hundreds of students who teamed up in groups of four to build houses, ships, islands, dinosaurs and anything else that could be reasonably constructed with crisp sheets of gingerbread and buckets of sticky frosting.
Before the start of the contest, a woman from the dining service who was helping dole out candy supplies set off a round of applause when she announced there was no glue in the icing. Contestants could lick their fingers with no worries.
Gingerbread houses have been a holiday treat for generations. Most food historians credit the Brothers Grimm for launching the gingerbread house tradition with their description of the witch's house in the fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel."
But over the past couple decades, gingerbread construction has entered a new era. More and more groups and organizations are building life-sized gingerbread houses and last year, the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, N.C., debuted the first eco-friendly gingerbread house made with 350 pounds of organic sugar, LED lighting and a recycled wood frame.
And smaller gingerbread houses are becoming more and more elaborate, almost as if cooks were following an upscale housing trend.
And it's not just houses anymore. A lot of the teams at St. Anselm recreated scenes and characters from their favorite books and films. Even teams that went the traditional route with a basic cottage design, added unique features to their gingerbread homes.
"This is an accurate replica of our room," explained Mack Douglas of Londonderry, who teamed up with roommates Collin Garcia of Stratford, Cameron Wood of Salisbury, Mass., and Scott McKeon of Rhode Island.
"Last year, we made a house that fell apart," said Douglas. But this year, they were back, ready to give gingerbread another shot.
Students had two hours to build their gingerbread creations. Once they were finished, entries were lined up on tables in the dining hall so that students could vote on their favorite piece of edible artwork. In addition to school wide recognition and glory, the winning team picks up a $400 prize.
Some teams had artistic point people who knew exactly how to mold animals out of salt water taffy and use strands of red licorice as ribbons on frosted presents under frosted ice-cream cone trees. Other teams improvised with whatever they had at hand.
"It's a great tradition and it makes a nice memory," said Camryn Oliwa of Bedford, who was building a piano with Good and Plenty keys with Stephanie Kearsley of Manchester.
Their teammate, Ethan Lawrence, said being part of the Christmas crowd was as much fun as the contest.
"Look at this place," he said as he glanced around the dining hall where every table was full of candy and students. "It looks like Hogwarts."
Like almost everyone who turned out for the competition, James Cassidy of Winslow, Maine, said the Gingerbread House Competition was one of St. Anselm's best holiday traditions, and a perfect break before exams start next week.
"It's a lot of fun and a great way to end the semester," said Cassidy. "And a great way to pick up some holiday spirit."