Oh what fun on the Plympton Green at the home of Jon Wilhelmsen and Ann Sobolewski for the unveiling of their annual gingerbread house Saturday. Their holiday party took on a new look in the wake of the pandemic and the festivities were held outside.
The much anticipated gingerbread house of the year was actually two houses – very important houses – the Police Station and the Fire House. “We wanted to celebrate our first responders this year.”
The annual gingerbread house has been part of Plympton’s holiday season for the past 23 years. We asked Jon and Ann about their project.
Q. How do you choose which house you are going to feature each year?
A. We have done a number of houses/buildings in Plympton including a number of neighbors (259 Main, 260 Main, 268 Main, 271 Main) and a lot from around town including 53 Mayflower, 2 Ring Road, 39 Ring Road, 10 Center Street, 140 Palmer Road, 49 Main Street, 162 Main Street, 292 Main Street, 147 Lake Street, 32 Parsonage. We did the Library back in 2013 and have occasionally done buildings not in Plympton, though largely we keep it within the town borders.
Q. What are some of the challenges you have overcome?
A. Since most of these houses are old and have evolved over time, rooflines can be very challenging (Library, Fire Station) to replicate in paper and then have them work perfectly in gingerbread. Also – since gingerbread can change shape when baking, it can come out of the oven looking somewhat different from when it went in. That is why I use an Exacto© knife to help trim or shave pieces down to get them to fit. I also often have a spare piece of gingerbread for last minute piece replacement or edits in case a piece was missed in the drafting.
The Library was quite a challenge because it was difficult to photograph a full side of it given how large the building is and that the woods were in the way. “For that plan I actually paced out the measurement of the building with window locations to use with the pictures to draw up the plans. Also, we had a friend’s house that we did in another town that was built into a hill so we also made gingerbread cake and ‘built’ the house into the hillside rather than build the hillside around the house.”
One of the biggest challenges can be getting the pictures in the fall to use for creating the plans, he noted. “We try to make sure the building is a surprise so we don’t want anyone knowing about it until the unveiling. When you have folks who are home a lot, that can be very challenging to get the pictures without getting nabbed by the homeowner or perhaps having the police called on you!”
Q. Getting the gingerbread just right so that it will stand up well must present its own obstacles, then, getting the add-ons to replicate the details is a challenge itself. Is this your own recipe? asked The Express.
A. It is actually not a special recipe – just a standard gingerbread dough recipe from Martha Stewart, Sobolewski told The Express. That said – it is really important that the pieces be cold when baked so they hold their shape better – so a cold day is always better for the baking as they can be put out on the patio to keep cold while other pieces are baking in the oven.”
Q. Does Jon make the blueprints for the houses? How do you make your houses so accurate?
A. Yes – I create the blueprints/templates for the various pieces needed to construct the buildings. They are generally drafted using pictures of each side of the building and sometimes Google is enlisted to help looking the aerial view of the building for proportions. Typically I start with one feature (a window or door) and that is used to create a standard form of measurement – if window #1 is 1.5” wide, then similar windows in each of the other pictures is also 1.5” wide. If the space between windows is about 2 windows wide, then the space is 3” in the plan. We don’t strive for exact measurements, just ones that provide details that help you recognize the building and keep everything in proportion.”
Q. Tell me what you hope people will remember about your houses and why you keep doing this year after year for what has become decades! Your gingerbread houses have become a treasured Plympton tradition. I›m sure the town is glad you didn›t let anything like a global pandemic stop your baking artistry and holiday fun.
A. When we decide to do a house, it often is done as a thank you for work done over the past year for the town or community. We have also done it to welcome new neighbors or just as a nice gift. Secondarily – almost all of these house are older homes. It gives me a chance to better understand how they were put together and also, I hope, to help our guests/friends to more fully appreciate the different historic architecture in Plympton. This year absent the party, we decided to double the work and give something back to our first responders – something fun that helps to let them know that as a community we appreciate all their hard work and sacrifice not just this year, but every year. And – I think it is also a lot of fun to see the reaction to the creations – something that folks look forward to all year. Both the cookies and the gingerbread buildings were something that we could still do safely and provide just a little bit of normal in a very not normal year.
Q. And the cookies! How many different cookies? I can count the kinds on my enclosed cookie guide but I thought you might know it offhand.
A. This year: 57