If visions of gingerbread dance in front of your eyes, you just might be in Janice Burkett’s kitchen. Or living room, dining room or bedroom.
Burkett makes gingerbread houses by the hundreds, and right now the neighborhood is a little crowded. By Christmas, Burkett will bake, frost, decorate and ship somewhere between 500 and 600 houses. She does all of this from a condominium on, appropriately enough, Victorian Place.
“Every year I say I’m not doing it again,” she says, and then she laughs.
She knows there’s no going back now – friends and relatives have come to expect a gingerbread house for Christmas. Burkett ships to almost every state and has sent houses as far away as Afghanistan and Japan.
It all began innocently enough when she decided to make gingerbread houses for her nieces more than 30 years ago.
“That’s when it started to get out of hand,” she said.
She started with a store-bought kit but thought she could do better. Before she knew it, Burkett had developed her own gingerbread recipe and special icing. It was all over when she began storing up enough gingerbread men to launch an assault and urged her friends to scoop up every bit of Christmas candy they could scrounge. Everything on her houses is edible, from the rooftops made of wafers, pretzels or even frosted mini wheats, to the Santa standing out front. Even the round bases beneath the houses are edible.
Burkett begins her work while the rest of us are packing up the Halloween decorations, and sometimes the mild North Carolina weather feels closer to summer than winter. She turns on the dehumidifiers kept just for this purpose and continues to roll out sheets of dough and slide them into the oven. The baking continues non-stop until she has buckets of gingerbread men and Christmas trees waiting to be decorated. She waits until the last minute to bake what will be the walls and roof of the house and sometimes bakes and assembles as many as 20 houses in one day.
“Family is put on hold, Christmas shopping is on hold,” Burkett says.
She slows down on her day job as a travel agent and enlists her reluctant children, now grown, to come help her. A local woman arrives to help decorate. A full-time librarian assists with shipping and receiving.
Burkett hopes to one day move Edible Real Estate to a permanent location where she could sell her gingerbread houses to the public. It’s more than Christmas – she makes houses for Halloween, Easter and birthdays. Real estate agents will ask for one of her creations to give to new buyers as house-warming gifts. That led to one of her most ambitious projects: a replica of a condominium complex with nine two-story houses surrounded by cars, trees and people. It took four days to complete. She also has made a gingerbread replica of the Market House.
But sometimes it is the simplest house that brings the greatest joy. Burkett often invites friends and their children to help make and decorate their own gingerbread house.
“It gives you a sense of accomplishment,” she says, “and great satisfaction.”
After all, there’s no place like home.