A baking tradition 50 years strong
What started out as an article in Family Circle Magazine has turned into a 50-year tradition for Barbara Feilmeier. The longtime Mitchell resident just finished her 50th straight year of making a gingerbread house for the holidays.
What started out as an article in Family Circle Magazine has turned into a 50-year tradition for Barbara Feilmeier.
The longtime Mitchell resident just finished her 50th straight year of making a gingerbread house for the holidays.
What started as one church in 1970 is now a small village on display at the Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell.
“I wanted to repeat that, the church. And the Family Circle article was that church. And so I thought for 50 years later, I would go back and make the original church,” Feilmeier said. “I still have the pattern for it.
“So that's what got me started,” she added. “And then I thought, well, maybe I'll just put a church at the end of the street and make some other buildings and make a little village.”
The village consists of the church, a general store, a hotel, a saloon and a livery stable.
“The livery stables is the one that everybody kind of gets a kick out of,” she said. “It's got shredded wheat in there for the hay bales. So that was kind of fun.”
In building her village, Feilmeier said she looked at pictures and talked to friends about what she should include, even drawing inspiration from the hotel at the Pioneer Village in Murdo as an inspiration.
Staying true to the authenticity of gingerbread houses made entirely from edible materials, pieces of the village not only include gingerbread but also pasta, cereal, candy and Fondant icing for the people and horses.
Over the course of the years, Feilmeier said she’s expanded from the church and houses to try more intricate pieces, including Mitchell landmarks such as the Corn Palace, The Depot, Holy Family Catholic Church and last year the Painted Ladies houses in San Francisco.
But this year’s was the largest project she’s undertaken.
Starting in October, Feilmeier begins messing around with poster boards to make frames to build from.
“This took six batches of gingerbread, over 35 cups of flour,” she said. “I made three batches. I thought that was enough, then I made two more and that still wasn't enough and I had to make one more.”
As she constructs each individual wall for the buildings, Feilmeier described the process as raising a barn, putting the individual pieces together and securing it all with frosting and saving the roof for last.
As a mother of four and a grandma, Feilmeier said with her children growing up around her annual building the gingerbread houses, they may not appreciate it as much as others.
“They thought everybody did that, you know? ‘So you made another gingerbread house, no big deal,’” Feilmeier said. “They don't get too excited about it. I have a daughter-in-law that thinks it's fun. She's all excited.”
While typically Feilmeier would invite people over to her home to check out her gingerbread design, COVID-19 made things more difficult. Feilmeier was able to set it up and put it on display to the public at the Carnegie Resource Center this year.
As typical kids do, when Feilmeier’s kids were growing up, one of her kids decided to sneak away an entire piece of gingerbread to eat while mom was away. To this day, she still doesn’t know for certain which of her children did it, a harmless family mystery.
“I cooked the gingerbread … put it in a cookie sheet, let it sit, the sides are all piled up in a cookie sheet in the back of the counter. Well, some little monster came and ate one of my sides,” she said. “So the next day, I get ready to build my house and one whole side is missing.
“So I try to find out who did it. And of course, nobody would admit that they ate the thing.
About three or four years ago, Feilmeier wrote a letter to her kids -- now in their 40s and 50s -- looking to get to the bottom of the gingerbread house mystery
“I said, I think it's time to admit who ate the side of the gingerbread house. You know, you can fess up now,” Feilmeier recalled. “Well, the two girls said the boys did it. And one boy said the other boy did it. The other boy said the other boy did it. So nobody confessed.”
After 50 years, one missing gingerbread wall isn’t going to slow down Barbara Feilmeier’s baking prowess or her holiday treat town.