Susan Rogers admits with a laugh that she has an obsession for building gingerbread homes.
But at least she wins awards for it.
A gingerbread mansion she built for the 27th Annual Belleville Gingerbread Contest earned the Best of Show award this week and a $1,000 prize. This was the fifth time she won the Best of Show award in the contest, with her previous wins in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2014.
This year’s piece is called “The Ghouls Next Door.”
“It’s a haunted house where the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future hang out when they are not working,” she said, referring to the characters in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
The back of the house has rooms for the ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a candle who is roasting a marshmallow in the candle’s flame, the Ghost of Christmas Present is calmly watching this and in the room above, the Ghost of Christmas Future gazes into a crystal ball.
Rogers, 49, of O’Fallon started entering the Belleville contest in the late 1990s but hasn’t participated every year since then because of various reasons, including taking time to go back to college and spending four years in Texas on a military assignment.
All the material used in the gingerbread contest has to be edible. And that’s where culinary creativity kicks in.
One of Rogers’ brainstorms produced the vines crawling up the haunted house. They are made from Ramen noodles that were boiled in “really green” dyed water and then dried in squiggly shapes for a day or two.
“Our house is a mess,” Rogers said.
Dried parsley, rosemary and black pepper are in the yard and sunflower shells are used for roof tiles.
Gum paste, which is a type of sugar dough, is used for the bricks on the house. Rogers had three shades of pink and red for the bricks.
She enlisted the help of her husband, Aaron Rogers, and her friend, Lisa Carducci, to cut the bricks.
“They were my brick people,” she said. “They were fantastic helpers.”
Aaron joked that it was more like “forced labor.”
Royal icing is used to attach the bricks to the walls.
The clear windows are made out of isomalt, a sugar substitute. Rogers, who is a data analyst for BJC HealthCare in Brentwood, Mo., scored the windows when the cooked isomalt was just the right temperature – if it’s too soft the knife gets stuck but if’s too hard, the lines won’t form.
Construction on the home began Sept. 24. The structure is based on a piece of cottage artwork by the English sculptor David Winter, who Rogers has long admired.
If you want to see Rogers’ creation, go to Ambassador Travel at 312 E. Main St.
Julia Crunk, manager of the agency, said she always has gingerbread entries on display in her storefront and is proud to have the Best of Show this year.
All the winning entries will be on display in downtown businesses until Jan. 1.
Although the homes are built with things you can eat, don’t be tempted to chomp on the winning entries. They have all been sprayed with a shellac to protect them from the elements and insects.
For Rogers, this year’s results are still soaking in and she has no idea what next year might bring. She knows some of the competitors are already planning for 2017.
“I just love doing it,” she said. “It’s an obsession. Anybody who does a gingerbread will tell you it’s an obsession.”