December 7, 2012

The gingerbread woman

Delicious hobby gets national attention

By Christopher Smith

— Five-hundred hours.

That’s about how long it takes Rita Adams to finish one of her gingerbread creations.

Rita, along with some past help from her husband Monte, has been submitting her baked work to the National Gingerbread House Competition since 2001 when it was held at the Atlanta Festival of Trees. Now, the couple drives to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. to take part in the event every November.

“Ten professional judges take all afternoon to look at your work,” said Rita, who works as a specialist for Shaw Industries in Dalton and lives in Ringgold. “They judge on overall appearance, originality, creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme.”

The submissions have ranged from western saloons to composites of houses Rita remembers from old movies and her time growing up in California, placing in the top 10 several times and winning fourth place in 2007.

Monte uses three dimensional drawing software such as Google SketchUp to create foam models to help Rita visualize the inside and outside of her homes before the extensive baking, but he was not as involved this year. That’s because Rita created a gingerbread cat, not another house.

Though it did not place in the competition, it still has a special place in Rita’s heart.

“It’s a tribute to my beloved pet,” she said. “It passed away.”

The tribute was also an attempt to “break the mold of traditional gingerbread houses,” Monte said. The piece, titled “Jewelry Box Mischief,” is a cat sitting on an ottoman and peering into a jewelry box.

“The majority of submissions have been houses,” he added. “Lately, people have been doing something different. The judges seem to like it, since the top finishers were not houses at all. We’ve done houses the last six years, but not this year. It’s a new trend.”

The couple — who “met, went to dinner, starting dating and got married in 2000” — said experimenting with techniques has changed the competition.

“This year’s piece had a lot of hand-molding and sculpture involved,” Rita said. “Everyone is trying to be different, but there are rules in place. We used about 96 percent gingerbread. The dresses were 100 percent, even though it doesn’t look like it. It’s hand-painted with toothpicks and created with a pasta machine. Each dress took days to create.”

Each dress is also fragile.

“One of the dresses collapsed and it fell apart one night,” Rita added. “It is so crushing when that happens, especially at midnight after a long week of work.”

But Rita said the work can pay off. In 2007, her fourth place submission was also selected by the Grove Park Inn as one of six creations taken to New York and shown on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Christmas Eve day.

“Just winning that year and to place in the top 10 and get fourth place was great,” she said. “To see it on TV was shocking.”

“And it was really neat to see your name up there too,” Monte added.

But not enough to stop.

“I won’t give up until I win,” Rita said. “Then I’ll think about stopping.”

For more information about Rita’s gingerbread houses, you can contact her at