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The Pierce family of Heuvelton, with their replica of the Remington Tavern, in 2011. Photo: Carolyn Pierce
The Pierce family of Heuvelton, with their replica of the Remington Tavern, in 2011. Photo: Carolyn Pierce

Heard Up North: Family remembers 10 years of gingerbread

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Traditional Arts in Upstate New York opens its 10th annual Gingerbread Contest and Exhibit Saturday in Canton. The Pierce family of Heuvelton will have an entry, just like every other year the contest has been around.

Julie Grant met recently with Carolyn Pierce and a handful of her seven children, who range in age from seven to 20. Reggie, the oldest, is now in college. He was 10 the first year they entered. That year they attempted a gingerbread replica of their church in Heuvelton.

In the years that have followed, they've made the Remington Tavern, the Quiltmaker's gift castle, and their own barn. They've even won the TAUNY contest a few times.

Mother Carolyn Pierce says it was Aunt Eloise, also known as Faye White, who first encouraged them to get into gingerbread making.

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Julie Grant
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Building a replica of their own barn in Heuvelton in 2005. Photo: Carolyn Pierce
Building a replica of their own barn in Heuvelton in 2005. Photo: Carolyn Pierce
"She came to us and said, 'wouldn't it be fun to do a gingerbread house?'  Meaghan was about six weeks old at the time, and there was five other ones. I said, 'Oh yeah, that'd be great.' She said, 'I'll do all the work."  We said, "Okay." 

The family started with its own church, which Reggie says he tried to plan to scale: "I did my best estimate of how big it was. And what doesn't look that big on graph paper, turns out to be huge when you actually bake it. And I'd made this thing to be about five sheets of paper in size. We stacked the middle with canned goods, so it would hold the thing up and stacked milk cartons around the outside, trying to wait for the frosting to dry."

This year's theme is "around the world", Carolyn says. "We were throwing out ideas at the dinner table. The Taj Mahal? No! The Sphinx?  No! Then we decided Stonehenge would be great, just plops everywhere."

The completed replica of the barn, 2005. Photo: Carolyn Pierce
The completed replica of the barn, 2005. Photo: Carolyn Pierce
Everyone laughs as Carolyn describes those ideas—son Michael had one of his own: "I said just make grass. It is around the world."

Every year, Carolyn says she asks the family, "Are you sure you want to do it again?  Remember last year?", but of course they say "no, of course we want to!"  So, they jump in again.

So, what is it about "last year"? "Oh", Carolyn says, "the falling apart, the 'come on kids, time to bake the gingerbread.' 'Oh, do we have to?'"

Reggie admits that does happen, "because even after it's baked, it's three days to put it together. And there's other things you could be doing those three days.

Carolyn says the kids love the candy part. Michael says he likes the eating part.

So why do they keep doing it? Because, they say, it's a tradition, "like a rolling stone just keeps on rolling", says daughter Meaghan.

"We're stubborn, I guess", says Carolyn. "It's that Irish, you know, once you start something, you're not going to give up. And as Reggie said, it's become a tradition.

Aunt Eloise says it's a "whole family thing", too. "Everyone's always involved. Whether it's walking by, picking off candy..."

Carolyn says she doesn't think the family will "ever stop at this point, because it's something that they would just miss too much."

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