Baked for Building

Betty Carpenito's homemade gingerbread serves as the foundation for edible houses - and family bonding.

The wreath adorned with gingerbread men in Betty Carpenito’s kitchen says it all: “Baked With Love.”

Love is what inspires Carpenito, of Hatboro, to buy and mix – with help from her three Kitchen Aid mixers - 50 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of brown sugar, 20 bottles of molasses, 40 eggs, a half pound of ginger and a half pound of cinnamon every year, beginning the weekend after Thanksgiving.

With a batch of gingerbread baking in the oven, another cooling in a container and still others partially assembled on her kitchen countertop and on her dining room table, the smell of gingerbread wafts through her home, but Carpenito’s nose is none the wiser.

“The first day I smell it,” Carpenito says. “And then, afterward, I don’t.”

Smelling it could prove too tempting for Carpenito, who doesn’t eat the gingerbread. She bakes with another purpose altogether: to provide building enjoyment for a dozen family friends. And, of course, all of her hard work is fueled by a love of bringing smiles to kids’ faces.

“I learned from my mom how to bake,” Carpenito says. “My mom always said, ‘never forget the kids.’ “

Having no kids of her own, Carpenito, a TD Bank data standards manager and self-described “big kid at heart,” set out 12 years ago to bring some enjoyment to her nephew Christopher, whom she says always seemed to be bored. The tradition has since grown to include other families with children of an age to enjoy using the candy she provides to concoct their very own, individualized – and totally edible – gingerbread house.

“I do give them all the same candies. It’s funny how they all come back different,” Carpenito says, beaming from ear to ear while flipping through photos on her laptop. “It gets me in the spirit and it gets everybody ready for Christmas.”

Nine of the 12 families Carpenito is baking for this year are local, but three live in Michigan. For those, Carpenito seals the gingerbread in packaging able to be kept in an airplane’s overhead compartment, flies in, spends time building the house and leaves the decorating to the kids.

“It’s the kids’ job,” Carpenito says. “The parents can guide and help all they want."

Mimi Valentic, who says her family is “lucky” to receive a house and visit from the gingerbread baker to their Grosse Point Woods, Mich., home, says Carpenito spreads her “contagious joy.”

“She gives from her heart,” Valentic writes in an e-mail to Patch. “Betty's visit makes my family slow down and really enjoy working together on something fun. She kicks off our holiday season in early December, and leaves us with a beautifully decorated gingerbread house and happy memories.”

Carpenito chuckles that families have offered her as much as $100 for a gingerbread house. But, she refuses to take even a penny. Her only request is to have a picture of the finished house.

“This is just for fun,” she says. “It’s fun for me and fun for the families. I don’t want to get into that business.”

Kara Raudenbush and her three kids – who are now all teenagers – have been on Carpenito’s gingerbread house receiving list since 2006. Raudenbush, also of Hatboro, says that her kids, since they are older, will act aloof and uninterested in decorating the house.

“But, as soon as it’s in the house they’re on top of it,” Raudenbush says. “It’s a nice way to bring the whole family together.”

Carpenito’s family comes together for the cause too. She says her husband, George, an engineer, every year “approves” a fully engineered house design. The couple works on that in October, mostly Mr. Carpenito, to ensure that “all the angles are proper,” his wife says.

“Every year is a new design,” she says. “That keeps it interesting.”

For John Sweeney’s family, which includes two adult daughters ages 22 and 20, an 18-year-old son and 6-year-old twin girls, the gingerbread house serves as an interesting bridge for the gap in ages.

“It gives them something to do together,” says Sweeney, who lives in Hatboro and runs a there.

After all of the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas decorations are coming down, Sweeney says his kids “wind up eating a fair amount of it.” The things feasted on, according to Sweeney, are all of the M&Ms, Necco wafers, spearmint and the like tacked onto the gingerbread house.

The structure, whose main ingredient is love, is meant after all, for building, not eating.

Theresa Katalinas (Editor) December 13, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Meeting Betty has made me want to try building gingerbread houses with my (almost) 2-year-old daughter. We baked sugar cookies together on Sunday - she cut them out with cookie cutters and sprinkled candies on them. She also helped with peanut butter cookies by adding the Hershey's kisses fresh out of the oven. It was a lot of fun!
Paula Scola December 14, 2011 at 01:44 PM
I am one of the families that Betty brings a gingerbread house to in Michigan. Last week, she carried a box containing 4 gingerbread houses through the airport and on to the plane rather than shipping them to ensure there would be no breakage. For 3 years, we have had a tradition to gather at my house with another family and decorate 2 gingerbread houses. My daughter gets so excited in the weeks leading up to Betty's arrival and now refers to her as "Aunt Betty". I am so lucky to have this tradition with my daughter and owe it all to Betty who volunteered to create and keep the tradition going. Betty is the true meaning of Christmas!
Mimi Valentic December 15, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Our family also gets the benefit of Betty's holiday spirit. Decorating Betty's gingerbread house is the highlight of my 3 kids' year. They see Betty only once a year, but she makes them feel like they've known her all their lives. She lets them enjoy "being kids" (you know what I'm talking about, Betty!) and sucks us adults back into a kid vortex, too. Even her husband, George, joins the party by phone :) Thanks, George, for sharing Betty! Thanks, Theresa, for telling Betty's story. And thanks, Betty, for kicking off our holidays with a bang! You are loved!
Gina Sweeney December 17, 2011 at 02:29 AM
The Sweeney Family received our new gingerbread house tonight. We are always amazed at the design, and this year is no different! We can't wait to spend some quality family time together and work on decorating our gingerbread house. We are so happy to have Betty as our neighbor and friend. Just a small side note to share about what an awesome person Betty is...on the morning of my mother's passing, I called Betty's house to see if she would let our dog out while I went to Baltimore to pick up our daughter at college. Without even leaving a message, Betty knew that my mom's death was close at hand, so when she saw that I had called she not only let our dog out that day, but made our family a dinner, and mowed our lawn! Thanks Betty for all you do!!


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