The smell of fresh gingerbread is inescapable at George Washington’s Ferry Farm this time of year, married with the sweet vanilla of icing and the faintest hints of orange, clove and cinnamon.
It’s the museum group’s annual gingerbread house contest and exhibit, now in its 32nd year, which is on display through Dec. 30.
The smell isn’t unique to this holiday season alone. The long-running tradition was started to commemorate the mother of George Washington, Mary Washington’s own well-loved gingerbread recipe. The George Washington Foundation, which runs Ferry Farm in Stafford County and Kenmore in downtown Fredericksburg, keeps the family traditions of the Washingtons alive.
It has become a tradition for many local families, as well, who visit or make houses.
Tour manager of the George Washington Foundation Vickie Hayes said, “Many families made it their own tradition to bring children. It’s a special event, you can tell the gingerbread houses are homemade. It’s not like what’s on TV competitions. It’s all made locally.”
According to Hayes, also popular is the gingerbread house workshop, held each November. Participants have the opportunity to build a house out of premade gingerbread, finding out what works—and what doesn’t.
“It fills up fast,” she said about the workshop.
This year’s gingerbread competition theme is “Cartoon Adventures.”
Historically, the group had more traditional themes such as historical sites, but wanted to reach a broader audience and allow the entrants to have a little fun with their designs. Other than the theme, the only rules state entries must be entirely edible and not made from a kit.
And the entries have varied takes on the theme. In one, Rapunzel sits atop a gingerbread tower, and her yellow spun-sugar hair tumbles down.
Snoopy hangs out on top of his doghouse, a sturdy construction of fondant and gingerbread, in another. Calvin and Hobbes are up to their old high jinks in multiple houses.
But the grand winner of this year’s exhibit was the “Hobbit House.”
Made by the Chancellor High School German Club, “The Lord of the Rings”-inspired house is a feat of cookie construction with actual curved gingerbread making up the circular Baggins home. Characters Frodo and Gandalf stand outside, and the red dragon Smaug rests on top of the home. It was chosen by a panel of judges as the standout entry this year, and its detail makes it a real celebration of gingerbread.
There is also a people’s choice award given out at the exhibit’s end. Everyone who visits gets a ballot to vote. Visitors get a scavenger hunt, as well, to engage with the exhibit.
Hayes said though she has been working there for 15 years, “Every year I walk in and—wow—it’s always something different.”
At the museum group’s Kenmore, there are even more small structures to see. Hayes said visiting both sites is a must this holiday season, since the historic Fredericksburg mansion’s “A Wee Christmas”—an exhibit of highly detailed, replica dollhouses, including the mansion itself—is running through Dec. 30, as well.