RUMSON: MEET THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE LADY
Debbie Bagnell of Rumson, aka “The Gingerbread House Lady,” at her dining room table, where she’s building more than gingerbread houses. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)
By JIM WILLIS
Add up her past 30 or so Christmases, and Debbie Bagnell of Rumson has turned out between 1,500 and 2,000 gingerbread houses.
“I’m part elf,” says Bagnell. “I have a little notch in my ear. So, it’s magic – that’s how this all gets done,” she says, gesturing to a dining room table covered with a miniature Levittown of gingerbread houses.
PieHole spent a snowy morning at Bagnell’s holiday-decorated home getting the inside scoop on mass producing gingerbread houses.
Bagnell tells PieHole she made her first gingerbread house more than 30 years ago, when volunteering for Meals on Wheels in Springfield. She thought that gingerbread houses would “make a nice treat” for the people she visited when volunteering during the holidays.
Back then, when she was just making a few at a time she made the decorated houses out of homemade gingerbread. But once Bagnell began making them by the dozens for her four children’s classes as they went through Holy Cross School in Rumson, she switched over to graham crackers to make the construction easier.
Every year at Christmas, Bagnell loads dozens of gingerbread houses into the back of her SUV to deliver to Holy Cross, where her childrens’ classmates bring in their own icing and candy from home to decorate.
Known as the “Gingerbread House Lady” at the school, students yearn to be in class with her kids. Bagnell tells PieHole that the jockeying to get a “Gingerbread house Lady” classroom assignment is well-known enough that former Saturday Night Live actress and borough resident Sioban Hogan performs a sketch that parodies the trials and tribulations of going through a year at Holy Cross and not being in “The Gingerbread Lady’s” class.
This year Bagnell says she made about 80 houses. “I sent some back with my college kid,” she says. Kids “are never too old for this—the high school kids, the college kids are doing them still.”
The current model, which consists of six graham crackers, sugar icing and marshmallows, has been her go-to model for “at least 10 years now.”
Bagnell starts the project right after Thanksgiving each year and says the biggest challenge is finding whole, unbroken graham crackers – the boxes are often filled with broken crackers. “[Finding whole crackers] is tricky lately. I don’t know if the boxes are bouncing off the trucks,” she says laughing.
PieHole asked Bagnell if she had any advice for would-be gingerbread house makers. Besides recommending Nabisco-brand graham crackers Bagnell adds, “It’s a great time of the year. Do whatever you can to make it special for someone.”