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A million dollars worth of Gingerbread

Cookies, candies and confections have cooked up considerable cash at Medford’s annual GingerBread Jubilee.

More than $1 million in cumulative proceeds over the event’s 13-year history is the anticipated payoff in 2015, say organizers. Since its 2003 inception, the Jubilee has helped to bankroll Craterian Performances’ operation. Last year’s effort raised more than $124,000, says Maureen Esser, development and communications manager for the nonprofit organization.

As the Craterian’s flagship fundraiser, the Jubilee has grown from a handful of gingerbread houses to a seasonal spectacle that draws about 3,000 visitors to downtown Medford. The three-day community tour runs Saturday through Monday, Nov. 21-23, at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts. Admission price is $3 per person. After judging, the Jubilee’s entirely edible edifices go up for auction Friday, Nov. 20.

A cash prize of $1,000 is at stake for the Best in Show among a field that typically numbers 40 to 50 entries. Awards from $500 to $100 go to the best examples in three categories: adult, student and group.

Best in Show bakers have wowed judges with realistic architecture — farms, churches, a bakery and a lighthouse — as well as scenes from popular films and television shows. Numerous figures and flourishes in fondant characterize five-time winner Melisa Corcoran’s creations, including last year’s fantastical fairyland conjured with 14-year-old daughter Rhiannon Corcoran.

Claiming first place in last year’s group category, Tara Buscher proved that a classic Christmas cottage still enjoys widespread appeal. Her “House of Snow…Flakes,” crafted with daughter Daphne Buscher and niece Laney Burridge, would have been a “basic gingerbread house” if not for its painstakingly rendered scrollwork.

“I’m not that into sculpting,” says Buscher, explaining the exclusion of fondant, a sugar paste that can be rolled out like dough, from her piece.

Approximately 300 tiny, gingerbread snowflakes shingled the structure. Buscher’s reliance on the contest’s namesake cookie showed that judges reward it above other culinary components.

“We couldn’t believe it; we were so excited,” says Buscher of the first-place showing for her first time competing. “I had no idea what to expect.”

A taste of success buoyed Buscher’s confidence for this year’s Jubilee, an opportunity that had always interested the sixth-grade teacher who’s dabbled in cake decorating and art. “Petite, pretty and lacy” also describe Buscher’s 2015 entry. The 50-year-old Grants Pass resident says she expects to spend three weeks assembling her piece, which may be smaller than last year’s.

The maximum dimensions allowed for gingerbread pieces are 36 inches by 28 inches and 30 inches high. Filling up the entire space — making for as much detail as bakers can devise — is the recommendation of past winners, including professional baker Rebecca Hill. Exhibition-only entries can exceed that size.

Months of planning and more than 100 hands-on hours in the kitchen often go into each winning entry, says Hill. She and Buscher are among the host of successful bakers who advise leaving wiggle room for mishaps and setbacks: broken pans of cookies, walls that collapse and roofs that cave in.

Durability, not deliciousness, is the primary goal of a good gingerbread recipe. Although recipes are widely available online, most top bakers have developed a few tricks that maximize the medium’s potential. Yet Hill advises anyone anxious about mixing, rolling, cutting and cooking gingerbread to simply purchase lots of prefabricated gingerbread-house kits and cut the pieces to suit.

Hill’s “I’m Late, I’m Late,” an homage to “Alice in Wonderland,” earned second-place honors in last year’s adult category. First place went to Chrissy Munyon and Sam Green, third place to former Harry & David baker Shannon Haptonstall.

The animated movie “Shaun the Sheep” inspired Medford student Josiah Arthur’s first-place entry. Rhiannon Corcoran’s cottage won second place in 2014’s student category. Students Samantha Hyde and Janelle and Madeline Shumway took third place.

In addition to Buscher’s gingerbread house, group-category winners were “Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post” by Maslow Project and “Gingerville” by Shelly Cullett and Christopher Mills-Price.

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ìGingerBread Farm Jubileeî by Melisa Corcoran won Best of Show at the 2014 GingerBread Jubilee in Medford. Mail Tribune file photo
Four-year-old Lenny Haptonstall helped his grandmother, Shannon Haptonstall, with their joint entry in the 2012 GingerBread Jubilee. Mail Tribune file photo