Her efforts earned "best of show" and shaped the largest piece of gingerbread a Medford festival has seen.
But Shannon Haptonstall still hopes to make a name for herself at the GingerBread Jubilee.
See a video demonstrating construction of a gingerbread house on our Holiday 101 page. Go to www.mailtribune.com/holiday101.
"I've never gambled with gingerbread before," says the Eagle Point resident.
Haptonstall wagered on winning while employed at Harry & David, which took the Jubilee's top prize in 2006 for a painstakingly painted and peopled, Bavarian-themed, gingerbread village. The entry, she says, represented more than six weeks of her paid, full-time work in addition to another Harry & David employee's.
"It was the most fun I ever had as a job," says Haptonstall, who previously used the surname Wheeler and retired two years ago from a 25-year career in bakery production.
Haptonstall says, after winning, she advocated for Harry & David to bow out of competition and bake only for exhibition at the annual fundraiser for Craterian Performances. The next year, the team wowed observers with its 6-foot-long, old-fashioned pickup painted with the Harry & David logo, gifts in tow.
Haptonstall says she encased the vehicle's bumpers with edible, silver foil and blew its headlights from molten candy but lacquered it so heavily that, months later, it "cracked up like an old teapot."
Realistic textures of wood and brick characterize Haptonstall's first individual Jubilee entry, a cookie castle inhabited by fondant snowmen. She also planned a gingerbread railroad for the mixed-age group category with help from 4-year-old grandson Lenny.
"His favorite thing to do is cut, not roll," says Haptonstall.
"Like a pizza cutter," Lenny exclaims.
Using a woodworker's scroll saw to trim gingerbread and celery "strings" to hang snowflakes from the castle's ramparts, Haptonstall says she's struggling to suspend snowballs in midair. Resourceful enough to harvest oregano stems from her garden for the snowmen's twiglike arms, the 53-year-old says she misses ordering up a few pounds of marshmallow fondant on Harry & David's factory floor.
"It was nice having the world at your fingertips."
Specialty baking items, however, have become much easier to find locally over the past decade, easing novices' participation, says Haptonstall. The competition will see a number of newcomers, say organizers, adding that several repeat winners — Central Point's Corcoran family, last year's "best of show" baker Robin Fleissner and sponsor Rebecca Hill — are not among the entrants.
Yet the Jubilee is expecting nearly 50 entirely edible sculptures to arrive today at downtown Medford's Craterian Theater. Judges will award more than $3,500 in cash prizes to the best of the bunch, before they're all auctioned Friday evening and displayed in a weeklong, public exhibit that starts Saturday.
"They truly are works of art," says Bonnie Hall, Jubilee committee chairwoman.
Organizers say they expect to raise about $100,000, bringing total Jubilee profits to about $750,000 over its 10-year history.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email email@example.com.