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Veteran gingerbread-house maker wins Cancun trip with latest design

Tom Bowen, 55, of Greenlawn, peers into the

Tom Bowen, 55, of Greenlawn, peers into the winning gingerbread house during the Spectacular Gingerbread House Contest during the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival. (Dec. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Susan Varghese

Janice Washburn’s winning gingerbread creation, a barn complete with edible haystacks and fondant horses, had details so intricate that some used a flashlight to peer in for a better look.

Washburn, of Port Jefferson Station, has entered the gingerbread contest for the last three years -- winning second place and “viewers choice” in the past.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I almost didn't enter this year, for lack of time, but when I found out what the grand prize was I just had to find the time to create a house. And I'm so glad I did!”

Washburn was one of about 20 entrants in the third-annual Spectacular Gingerbread House Contest held during the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival this weekend. As winner in the adult category, she won a five-day, four-night vacation to Cancun.

The teen winner won a $150-prize and a month worth of lessons at the School of Rock in Port Jefferson, and the youth prize was $150. The contest was hosted by the Suffolk Masonic Lodge No. 60. 

Contest coordinator Gary Lindemann said he started the gingerbread house contest for the lodge as a way to raise money for charity. Each year the group donates part of the proceeds to a different organization.

“It fits with the Dickens festival and, every year, what the contestants do gets better and better,” he said. “They really put thought into it.”

Other notable creations included materials both classic and nontraditional, everything from candy canes to Cheez-Its.

Benjamin Owen, a local artist and one of the judges, said Washburn’s use of fondant this year stood out.

“It’s definitely not traditional, but I think it’s more popular because of shows like ‘Cake Boss’, he said. “The winner -- the barn -- had so much detail with the haystack and the horses.”

This year, the lodge raised more than $3,500 for the Kimberly D. Holland Hodgkin’s Disease Foundation for Clinical Trial Research.

Kimberly Holland, of Massapequa, who was at the contest, said she was “very grateful” her foundation was chosen as a contest beneficiary. She said the donation would go toward clinical research trials.

Perusing the different houses, Vinny Leonard, 6, of Selden, stopped and gazed at a marshmallow-and-gumdrop-adorned gingerbread house. “I like the most sugary part the best,” he said.

His mother, Heather Leonard, said she has been coming to the Dickens Festival for a few years and once entered the gingerbread competition.

“Honestly, I just love the Dickens Festival. I’m very impressed by the different ideas people have in the gingerbread contest,“ she said. “I actually entered a few years ago, but I didn’t win. The first one I made the dog ate it so I haven’t made another one.”

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