Can’t Catch Me, I’m the Gingerbread Man

Aug 3, 2012

By John Zehnder, CEC, ACE, HGT, AAC

If you come to Zehnder’s and visit our Foodstore, you can’t miss the almost life-size wooden gingerbread boards that adorn the walls. We have lots of folks ask about them – so here’s the story:

Our interior design team of Dave Zeese and Don Nagel often went out to rural auctions looking for unique antiques that might look good here at Zehnder’s. If you look around you’ll see several of their finds displayed throughout the restaurant. Back in 1958, Dave and Don went to an Amish country auction in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They came back with a dozen filthy planks that smelled of rancid flour and lard. ‘Diamonds in the rough’, announced Dave Zeese. You see, these were hand-carved gingerbread boards, we believe white oak, estimated to be somewhere between 100 and 125 years old. That would make them almost 200 years old today!

With quite a bit of elbow grease and a lot of hot soapy water, we found that Dave Zeese was right! Intricately carved figures began to emerge from the caked-on flour and grease. Once cleaned and bleached, they were proudly displayed in our Main Dining Room and taken down when we remodeled the dining room in January of 2007. They were stored for a few years in the attic above the restaurant and were reintroduced to the Foodstore a few years ago.

Back when these boards were new, folks invited to the wedding or special party would all help make cookies. Boards would be rubbed with lard and lightly floured so nothing stuck. Gingerbread would be hand pushed into the cut-out board and baked in an outdoor wood fired oven. Sounds simple enough!

Just for kicks, we took one of the boards and actually made a gingerbread cookie. We flipped the figure out of the mold and waited for it to cool. Well…as the baked gingerbread figure began to cool, the arms and legs began to curl up as if the figure was coming to life! Funny and eerie at the same time! Remember the story of the gingerbread boy who came to life?

Speaking of one-of-a-kind items specific to Zehnder’s Foodstore, you really have to try our butterhorns. Butterhorns are uniquely a Frankenmuth pastry. When my sons were growing up, my wife and I regularly attended the PTL parent/teacher meetings. I admit, half the reason was everyone brought baked goods, especially butterhorns served with punch and coffee after the meeting was over. I must have sampled over 50 different varieties of homemade butterhorns over the years my kids were in school.

So what is a butterhorn? It’s a sweet dough pastry with a nugget of brown sugar and walnuts tucked inside, frosted and sprinkled with more walnuts. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the snack for you! One of many great products we offer our guests! You can also order this product from our online store here.

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