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Woodsy-theme edible village at Lanier Village Estates
Staff creates country-style gingerbread town for residents
Lanier Village Estates Nutrition and Culinary Services Director Dave McTigue, left, and Culinary Service Manager Matthew Hulsey put a few finishing touches Monday to a large gingerbread village display. McTigue has been making gingerbread houses at Lanier Village Estates since 2004, with each one becoming more elaborate than the last.

For the gingerbread dough recipe, click here.

It’s amazing what a little brown sugar, molasses and flour can become when thoroughly mixed with imagination and the Christmas spirit.

Each year, the culinary staff at Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville creates detailed Christmas scenes out of gingerbread and royal icing. This year’s display features a picturesque town beside a river and a mysterious visit from an otherworldly Santa Claus.

The 6-foot-by-10-foot display inside the retirement community’s clubhouse takes a team of 15 people more than a week and a half to bake and assemble. It is completely edible except for a few strings of electric lights and other smaller decorative items.

Dave McTigue, director of culinary and nutritional services, said he originally intended to make the display completely edible but found adding lights made the gingerbread more whimsical.

The buildings are carefully detailed, with many even having interior decorations such as a Christmas tree. Animals also sleep near bales of hay, made from shredded wheat, inside the barn.

Gingerbread houses are often made with sheets of dough, but the Lanier Village team used strips of dough on several buildings to create a wooden building visual. When the buildings were constructed, they were painted with food coloring.

Making the annual gingerbread village signals the start of the holiday season for residents and staff in the retirement community.

Lanier Village Estates resident Edward Rowe said he’s been impressed with the display for years and often encourages other residents who make a point to go and see it.

“I think they’ve done a great job, as usual,” Rowe said. “Every year I think they can’t top it, but they do.”

Rowe said his favorite features on the display are the small animal figurines around the barn. In the display are about 50 edible characters made with fondant, which is a thick, creamy sugary paste.

McTigue said the display gets a little bit easier to make every year and is a source of pride for the entire team.

“Last year, we did one large church, the year before that we did a tiny village with a stream going through it,” McTigue said. “So I think each year you build on it and you say how can we make this work? For me, I like the wonderland, country feel more than a cityscape. I like the outdoors where you can make a Christmas tree and ice-skating ponds and fires and make a woodsy-type theme. We lean toward that a little bit here, it’s kind of like when you open your Christmas card and you see a picture of a Christmas house all decorated with snowmen. We take that and build on it.”

Occasionally people sample pieces of the village, McTigue said smiling, but it’s OK because he keeps a repair kit handy.

“It’s just part of the fun,” McTigue said, shrugging.