The hardest part to complete was undoubtedly the roof.
Even the logistics of baking the wall panels were dwarfed by the skill required to place the roof tiles at a 45 degree angle, balanced atop the frame of the house, and then layering them, toward the centre of the top, until they had to be meticulously joined along a central ridge. It is fair to say that completing the roof took every last ounce of my energy and concentration. There had been a few setbacks- usually weather-related; although there had been the time when a flying squirrel accidentally landed on a drying roof tile, sending the squirrel and the tile catapulting into the nearby trees, and resulting a mildly concussed squirrel and a very broken shortbread tile. I dressed the squirrels head, and he sat and watched as I baked a replacement tile, and he even held the ladder for me as I placed the tile back into it’s original location.
Finally, the day had arrived, and my house was complete. I slumped back, landing in a cloud of leftover icing sugar (the only 5kg bag remaining), which created a puff of white smoke all around. From my new position on the ground, it was possible to admire the house in its entirety.
It had been months in the making- my baked masterpiece. Every single detail had been meticulously planned. The gingerbread walls, cooked to perfection so that the texture was just firm enough to join each panel at its seams.
The white piping icing ran in beautiful patterns down each wall- interspersed with sugarcraft gems, and white chocolate mice.
Every window frame had been individually cast, in beautiful pastel colours, to match the rice paper curtains hanging inside.
The confectionery glitter created a beautiful finish around the entire house. The front door beckoned you to enter, with its golden toffee door knocker, red liquorice panels, and coloured candies framing the stained glass panel (which had been painstakingly made from baked haribo, in the shape of a picture of a lovely wolf, who I once met in the woods)
The competition rules were clear: the construction must be large enough to be lived in for 72 hours. After which time, the judges would return to inspect that the structure was still intact, both inside and outside.
It was almost 11am, and the judges were due for their fist visit at Noon. The weather was on my side- just the right temperature- neither too hot, nor too cold, and perfectly dry (chocolate, especially is very fussy when it comes to temperature, and of course, chocolate, sugar and biscuit all loathe moisture). All that was left to do was to change from my old clothes and apron into my new green outfit, ready to make a good impression on the judges.
The decision to enter the competition came on a whim. The local newspaper was always running competitions- usually story-writing ones, with the occasional artisan food challenge thrown in. I had never really been confident enough to enter anything before. Since my dog Belle passed away last year, I had felt as though there was nothing much left for me to feel excited about any more. I had no relatives, and nobody ever came out to visit here in the woods. It kind of suited me well when Belle was alive. Just the two of us (I was never very good with people, anyway. Certainly never very good with children, which is why I decided not to have any of my own). I decided that it was not healthy to sit in misery for the rest of my life- I needed to get out there, do something different, prove that I exist.
Just before Noon, a shiny red car pulled up outside the house. Out stepped three judges- each one smartly dressed, and giving the distinct impression of being very difficult to please.
The judges walked around the outside of the gingerbread house, nodding a little, tutting a little and whispering amongst themselves. I had no idea what they were thinking.
“Can we step inside now please?” they enquired
So, I slowly opened the front door, to reveal the scrumptious interior. Their eyes moved from the living room corner, which was complete with a little sugarcraft wood burner, filled with chocolate flake logs, and a sofa made entirely of chocolate cake, with marshmallow cushions. The little footstools made from slices of battenberg cake added a touch of colour to the floor.
Across to the dining room- with the wafer biscuit table and chairs, and the cups and plates, all made from melted candy canes. The judges looked in amazement at the four poster bed, made from trifle sponge fingers, and adorned with a twinkie pillow and a marshmallow duvet
Their eyes finally landed on the kitchen- with its smooth liquorice worktops, baked sugar oven, and silver balls adorning the walls.
And that was it. As suddenly as they had arrived, they were leaving.
“We will see you again in 72 hours. Make sure that you stay inside the house overnight until we return”
So I began my live-in.
The time passed slowly- with no television or radio to keep me company, I listened intently instead to the sounds from the woodlands outside. The tweeting of the birds, the cooing of the owls, the scratching of the little mammals, and even the growling of a bear or two.
On the final day, there was a new sound- one of laughter, screeching, talking, little feet tap tap tapping and finally, a loud CRUNCH or two
Startled, I jumped up from my marshmallow cushion, and ran outside to take a closer look.
I almost could not believe what I was seeing- on the very top of the roof there were two teenagers, a boy and a girl- and they were laughing loudly whilst EATING my roof! The roof that had taken so long to complete..and what’s more, the judges were due to return the very next day!
“Oi! What do you think you are doing up there? Come down at once!”
The boy and girl looked at me blankly at first and carried on eating
“Come down I say! Stop immediately or I will call the police”
Reluctantly, the pair made their way back down the roof and down the walls, using the icing and candies as steps.
Soon, they were both stood in front of me, staring. They both looked fairly scruffy- slightly dirty and dishevelled if I am honest- but probably no worse than any other child who had been playing in the woods all day.
“Well” I said “Explain yourselves. You have 1 minute to convince me that there is a good reason that the two of you are up on my roof”
The girl spoke first “My name is Gretl, and this is my brother, Hansel. We were just out in the woods because our mother had sent us out here to forage for food, because she said that she can’t afford to keep us any more, as we were eating her out of house and home”
The boy then interrupted “So, you see, we are hungry. We saw your house and we decided that it was just so tempting, that we could not resist taking a few bites to fill our hungry stomachs”
Even though I do not particularly like children, their story, if true, was a sad one.
“OK, well if I were a true villain, I would be caging you up by now, overfeeding one of you, and then threatening to eat you. You would then most likely give me the slip somehow (being younger and faster than I) and end up shoving me in an oven or some such nonsense
The pair looked at each other, puzzled.
“Anyway, I think it would be more appropriate and more helpful for all of us if you both come inside, get your hands dirty, and help me to bake and then fix the roof. I have judges coming tomorrow- it’s an important competition, and this is the last day”
They looked reluctant, but overall, I think they realised that the only way to avoid being taken away by the police, was to obey my request.
So, we created a production line, and we all baked together. They were inexperienced bakers, which meant that I had to explain each stage to them. But being young, and quick to learn, they soon picked up the pace, and the kitchen became a little hive of activity.
The smell of baking filled the house, and soon enough, the new roof tiles were ready to be put into place.
Hansel and Gretl had no trouble climbing up to the roof again, and they were able to fix the holes in the roof quite easily.
“Lovely job. Thank you! Please, if you ever call by again, will you just ask before you take something of mine?”
“yes, of course we will. We are sorry”
“Now is there anything that I can do to help you, because it sounds as though things are not great for the two of you”
“Well, yes there is something” said Hansel
“There is a short story competition in the local newspaper. There is a cash prize, which we could really do with, to help us out at home”
“How can I help with that?”
“Well” said Gretl “perhaps if we can use your gingerbread house as inspiration for our story, it would help us a great deal”
“Yes of course you can”
“But” said Hansel, “there is one problem”
“Well the story as it happened, with you being so kind and understanding, it doesn’t make so much of an exciting story, as it would have done if you were unkind to us. So, would it be ok for us to change things a little?”
“Do what you need to do” I said
And so, Hansel and Gretl disappeared off into the woods, and back to writing their story.
For the record, their story came first in the competition, they won the money, and their household was solvent for a while longer.
And as for my competition, well, I was awarded third place. The judges spotted some unevenness on the roof, and therefore deducted a few points. It didn’t matter though. I was really just happy to have been able to help those children.