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GingerBread Jubilee a sweet, seasonal jubilation

Southern Oregon’s sweetest seasonal spectacle is a recipe for fundraising success.

More than $1.1 million in cumulative proceeds have been the payoff for 13 years of Medford’s GingerBread Jubilee. Last year’s gala raised a record $219,042, nearly $95,000 more than in 2014. The three-day event, which helps to bankroll Craterian Performances, also has drawn about 25,000 spectators from around the region throughout its history.

“I think that people in this town really love the theater; it’s a community gathering place,” says Aspen Droesch, Craterian Performances’ development manager. “The houses themselves … they’re just a really magical representation of the holidays.”

Whimsical themes, painstaking details and baking expertise qualify cookies, candies and royal icing as works of art displayed during each Jubilee. Entirely edible entries — typically numbering 40 to 50 — vie for more than $3,500 in cash prizes, with $1,000 bestowed on Best in Show.

Last year’s People’s Choice winner, Naomi Bell, had competed every year since the Jubilee’s 2003 inception to finally win over visitors’ votes. Calling the Jubilee a “community service,” the registered nurse says the challenge of sculpting with food appeals to her creative side.

“I love to cook, and I love to draw,” says the Grants Pass resident, who also mentors a student group that competes in each Jubilee.

“The Mouse Market” also took third place in the adult category, with a $100 award for Bell. The open-air scene of mice purchasing produce and other items from animal vendors — a squirrel, turtle, penguin, owl and frog — likely delighted children attending the 2015 Jubilee, says Bell.

Although Bell, like many Jubilee competitors, reaches for fondant when shaping figurines, she urges her students and prospective participants to look beyond the obvious confections, chocolates and other sweets for decorating. Dry beans, lentils and couscous make interesting groundcover, while simply cutting some candies in half dramatically changes their aesthetic, she says. Above all, she adds, establish a strong foundation and shore up the structure with plenty of supporting materials, such as thick pretzel rods.

“Starting with a good design is really important, and being realistic about it,” says Bell, adding that she usually starts planning her entry in August.

Seasoned Jubilee bakers know that judges favor entries replete in the event’s namesake medium rather than ones awash in icing and other adornments. Realistic architecture — farms, churches, a bakery, lighthouse, iconic landmarks and historical structures — have earned high scores in previous years. Movies, books, video games and other aspects of pop culture also furnish plenty of inspiration. The best examples among three categories — adult, student and group — garner awards from $500 to $100.

Top honors in 2015 went to a tranquil landscape of lush trees, flowers and wisteria vines, crafted by professional baker Rebecca DiCero, who claimed Best in Show at several previous Jubilees. Grants Pass residents Tara Buscher and Laney Burridge, repeat first-place winners in last year’s adult category, are restoring classic, snow-shrouded Christmas cottages to the competition. Second-place honors in 2015 went to Donna Sesock of Central Point.

First-place student baker Josiah Arthur of Medford tapped into the popularity of “Star Wars.” Second place among students went to Lily Cusumano of Cave Junction. Third place rewarded Samantha Hyde, of Medford, and Janelle and Madeline Shumway, of Ashland, for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” by Ashland Classical Conversations Home School representatives Jillian Brown and Heidi Patterson, won first place in the mixed-age group category. Second place went to Christopher, Lana and Sheryl Hyde of Medford. Ashland residents Summer, Edahlia, Taelynn and Ben Helm won third place.

After judging, entries in this year's event — the 14th annual — will go up for auction Friday, Nov. 18. The 2015 auction reached new philanthropic heights, largely through a sizeable donation from local patron of the arts Jim Collier.

The Craterian’s flagship fundraiser, the Jubilee draws crowds of about 3,000 over three days to downtown Medford’s Collier Center for the Performing Arts. The 2016 community tour runs Saturday through Monday, Nov. 19-21. Admission costs $3 per person.

“Getting to do it with your friends, your family, your neighbors is really what it’s all about,” says Droesch.

— Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

'Jack and the Beanstalk,' by Sheree Cox and Theresa Peplinski, is the 2016 first place winner in the adult category at the GingerBread Jubilee in Medford. - Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta