In the fast-paced, technological world we live in, Christmas seems to have become a mixture of harried mall shopping and Internet purchasing. So much is bought. Very little is handmade. For those looking to slow down the pace and get back to good old-fashioned holiday family fun, Gingerbread University in Riverhead is just the place to be.
The idea behind Gingerbread University began in 1975 by college professor Frederick H. Terry Sr., who was also an inventor and entrepreneur. Terry had been teaching advanced culinary classes at Nassau Community College and decided to sponsor student-run gingerbread-decorating workshops for the community as part of his students’ final exam. Unbeknownst to him, both the community and the media embraced this new idea, and before long, Terry created Gingerbread University.
Aka “Gingerbread Fred,” Fred Terry is a 13th-generation Long Islander and a well-known fixture on the East End, owning and running several businesses including the Lobster Roll Northside. He is also the proud father of seven children and grandfather of 12. In today’s day, where communication oftentimes is through text messaging, Fred came up with a way to bridge the gap between the old and the young and to bring families together in a creative way—through decorating gingerbread houses.
“I have an old-fashioned philosophy because I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy,” said Terry. “I find it personally rewarding to see a huge amount of grandparents coming in. It’s one of the few activities where grandparents can work with their grandchild in a focused activity, where they can interact and create something as a family endeavor. It truly is a defining experience.”
Gingerbread University consists of a sweet shop, where the heavenly aroma of spicy gingerbread fills the air, and a whimsical gingerbread decorating room that can hold up to 60 people. Cheerful paintings reminiscent of images from the board game Candy Land grace the walls. No cell phones are allowed during the gingerbread-decorating sessions that usually last about an hour.
For $34.95, a pre-assembled gingerbread house can be decorated and includes two color icings, candy that is made in America, a gift box and a diploma in “Gingerbreadology.” Other decorating items include 40 different jumbo cookie templates to choose from, a three-dimensional train and, new for this year, a gingerbread sleigh. Kits are also available for take home.
All the gingerbread is made at the University using old-world recipes consisting of dark molasses, brown sugar, all-purpose flour, baking soda and four spices—nutmeg, cloves, good-quality cinnamon and ginger, which comes from the Caribbean. The dough is dark and rich unlike the lighter gingerbread dough coming out of China and Canada, where honey and eggs are used and where there is little quality control.
Gingerbread University welcomes families, schools and scouts and is certified as an “Art Educator” in New York State. The university is open year-round on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and more days during the holiday season. Reservations are required.