Greencastle family gingerbread houses bound by frosting and love

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
These ladies have developed quite a sweet tradition. In 2015, Abigail and Rebekah Duvall created four gingerbread houses with their aunt Jen Forney and mother Anne Duvall.

Christmas is a sweet time of year for the Duvall family on Orchard Circle, and it is not even about the indulging.

Abigail, 15, her sister Rebekah, 13, their mom Anne, and her sister Jennifer Forney, continue a Black Friday tradition of a dozen years, making gingerbread houses to display well into the new year. The activity has progressed in detail as the girls have gotten older, so that this year the finished products are modeled after homes in Colonial Williamsburg.

When they graduated from graham cracker houses, Anne found the perfect dough recipe, and learned from experience various tricks to assure stable structures. The gingerbread is baked in advance, to allow it to dry out to better hold the frosting.

“I also bake it too long, so it is stronger,” Anne said. “We assemble a week ahead of time. The first year the roof fell off.”

They collect candy all year long, especially during clearance sales. It goes into a tub. No one is really interested in sneaking the candy, because they don’t know how old it is. The stash includes candy canes, licorice, jelly beans, gumdrops, peppermints, lollipops, sprinkles, and even chocolate covered sunflower seeds.

The teenagers like the creative outlet, and spending a whole day with their mother and aunt. The houses have ranged from places they have visited, such as Williamsburg and the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia, to the townhouses near Forney’s residence in Washington D.C.

Abigail, who likes to add a skating pond to each of her versions, can’t pick a favorite.

“I love them all,” she said. “Last year we made our own house. And this year they are so old-fashioned and quaint.”

Rebekah’s personal touch is always a mailbox and bunny hutch, in honor of their pet rabbits. And when it is time for the houses to meet their demise, she can handle it.

“They’ll stay up for a very long time,” she said. “Then we put them in the yard and the squirrels eat them.”

The tradition dates back to Anne and Forney wanting to do something creative together for the holidays.

Husband Paul is on the outside as far as gingerbread houses go, but he enjoys watching the whole thing unfold year after year.