First Posted: 1/15/2009
Michael Jaenicke-Assistant Features editor
LUMBERTON- Legend says England's original Queen Elizabeth invented the first gingerbread man, and that Nuremberg, Germany, is the “Gingerbread Capital of the World.”
Call Linda Metzger the “Gingerbread Queen of Robeson County.”
For more than two decades, Metzger, a real estate broker for Century 21, has made a gingerbread house and hundreds of gingerbread cookies as gifts for friends and family.
At a time when the gingerbread's legend is slowly melting into the landscape icing of Christmas Past, the time-honored building craze remains a seasonal pastime in her home.
For Metzger, gingerbread season begins shortly after cleaning up the mess from Thanksgiving dinner.
“I like to have it done before Dec. 1,” Metzger said. “To me, it not Christmas until I make the house and cookies. The tree and other trimmings are important, but the gingerbread house is a centerpiece for the table and kitchen.”
The construction helps Metzger remember holidays goneby with her three grown boys - Doug, Scott and Jeff - and also helps her feel like a kid at heart.
“The boys always looked for it as a sign of the season,” Metzger said, “and everyone around town knows about it. You can buy a precut kit, but to me the fun is playing with the dough, cutting and measuring things out, the smell of it baking and the whole experience of knowing that you're kicking off the season. Doug called the other day and asked when I could make it for his triplets.”
The seed of her tradition took root in 1977 when Metzger watched Diane Gray make a gingerbread house.
“She told me it wasn't difficult, and I found out it wasn't … as long as you do certain things,” Metzger said.
It didn't take her long to become hooked.
She was a quick study - partly because of her passion for cooking and partly because she studied at the foot of her mother, the late Lucille Carter, a from-scratch cook. Metzger picked up a December issue of Good Housekeeping magazine the following year with a gingerbread house on its cover and hasn't stopped making them.
Now that her children have left, she frequently curls up with a cookbook until late in the night.
“Some of it is because of my love for cooking,” Metzger said. “I have shelves of cooking books and read them like someone would a novel, even though most of that stuff never tends to work very well.”
Lots of patience
Metzger says that anyone can make a gingerbread house although its not an instant gratification process. She says that her houses are not “competition” or “show” variety, but rather more simplistic and down-to-earth in their scope and workmanship.
“It takes about four days to complete,” she said. “You can use put all kinds of artistic touches to it, but I keep mine fairly straight forward, changing it up only slightly from year to year.”
Metzger recommends taking ample time when buying ingredients, planning the design, baking and constructing the framework. Additional time must also be allotted to let the dough on the walls, ceiling and roof from a sturdy mesh. She says the biggest joy is decorating it with icing, jelly beans and other tasty tidbits.
“The decorating is a good time to have the young children come in to help out,” she said. “It's all edible, although I'd suggest to do that right away or leave it for the birds later. The whole process takes patience. It's best to take your time, and to enjoy the it.”
Metzger isn't the only person in the area to make a gingerbread house annually. But she is among a dying breed trying to keep the tradition alive.
No wonder Hansel and Gretel didn't mind getting lost in the woods.