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GingerBread Jubilee puts imagination on display

Between baking dozens of batches of gingerbread, mortared with 24 pounds of powdered sugar, and sculpting 50 farm animals in fondant, Melisa Corcoran still found time to watch an animated film every day for three weeks — sometimes twice a day.

That kind of investment yields big returns at the annual GingerBread Jubilee. Judged Best in Show out of 50 entries, Corcoran's "Gingerbread Farm Jubilee" claimed the contest's $1,000 top prize and was auctioned Friday for $1,600 to benefit Craterian Performances.

Admission fees to the exhibit of entirely edible sculptures, which runs through Monday, also support the downtown Medford theater.

"They were really stunning," said Ashland resident Kashauna Roberts, taking the Jubilee's community tour for the first time Saturday.

Corcoran, 42, has been wowing crowds since the Jubilee's 2003 debut, when she bested the field.

Her return to this year's competition after a two-year absence came with all the painstaking attention to detail and sense of whimsy that have made her the frequent People's Choice.

Built over three weeks, her gingerbread farm boasts a menagerie from pigs and sheep tended by gingerbread men to the incidental frog and snake that viewers easily could overlook.

Just as Corcoran let her imagination roam around the barnyard, her 13-year-old daughter Rhiannon envisioned Christmas on alien planet Blabb to win the student division and a $500 prize. But the duo faithfully paid homage to the 3-D computer-animated comedy "Despicable Me" for their "Despicable Christmas," which won first place and $500 in the group category.

One-eyed, yellow Minions run amok over the purple and black mansion, stringing Christmas lights, building snowmen, waging snowball fights, even golfing and dancing the hula.

"It looks like it's straight out of a cartoon," said Roberts, snapping photos with her smartphone. "That's amazing."

Viewers also were amazed by the group category's second-place winner, "Three-Headed Christmas Dragon," by mother and 9-year-old son Rebecca and Rafe Hill of Medford. Bristling in scales and spines with a shard of candy ice clenched in one maw, the creature reposes on a bed of sweets. Tinted with pearl food coloring, the piece represents an "ice dragon" that lives under Santa Claus' castle and guards the Christmas candy.

Although Rebecca Hill, 44, three times wrested the Jubilee's Best in Show title away from Corcoran, she went winless this year after the roof on her entry — Snoopy's doghouse — collapsed three times the day before the competition. Yet Snoopy's flat-screen television still shows the "Peanuts" Christmas special, one of Hill's childhood favorites.

Also citing missteps, former Harry & David baker Shannon Haptonstall, of Eagle Point, managed to take home first place and $500 in the adult division after her son stepped on the entry's roof, her dog ate six trees and her grandson consumed half her supply of marshmallows. The 1970s palette of Haptonstall's "classic gingerbread house" prompted her 5-year-old grandson, Lenny, to ask if its oversized candies were "antique food."

Lacking an official theme, this year's Jubilee received gingerbread renditions of the classic poem "The Night Before Christmas," Elvis' Graceland estate complete with pink Cadillac, Peter Pan's trip to Neverland, churches, treehouses, log cabins, city scenes, gardens, an outhouse, a tiki hut, the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars," and even downtown Medford's new One West Main office complex. Auction of the gingerbread pieces raised $83,000 for the Craterian, said development and communications manager Maureen Esser.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com.

Snowmen roast marshmallows in an entry at the annual GingerBread Jubilee Saturday at the Craterian Theater. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore