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St. Clair Shores

December 19, 2012

Holiday traditions span the centuries

By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer

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Sue Ellison, of Grosse Pointe Woods, reads poetry to children in the parlor while they waited their turn to decorate cookies in the tiny kitchen Dec. 15 at the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum.

The first indication it wouldn’t be a cookie-cutter baking lesson hit the nose as visitors walked up to the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum Dec. 15, when the warm smell of a wood fire filled the air.

That’s because baking day at the historic site on 11 Mile Road behind the St. Clair Shores Public Library is still done with the help of an antique stove, dating back to the 1880s.

“We were here from 11:30 starting the fire” to begin baking at 1 p.m., said museum docent Sandy Holsinger.

She explained that baking the gingerbread cookies, which were the draw for the day, required a lot more preparation and care than simply flicking a switch. The fire in the stove had to burn for at least an hour before baking could begin, and the temperature inside continued to fluctuate instead of staying a steady 350 degrees.

And even with hands full of cookie dough, wood had to be added to the fire.

“If your fire dies, you don’t have a stove,” she said.

Theresa Bertolini, a member of the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission, said 160 people came through the museum the night of the city tree lighting and 500 more came the next day to visit with Santa Claus in the historic saltbox home.

She said the gingerbread-making event, held a week later, is also always popular.

“I did this last year and it was wild,” she said, as children and their parents packed the tiny parlor of the home, listening to holiday stories and poems while waiting their turn to decorate a gingerbread man or woman. “It’s a time thing. You don’t have a thermostat. That’s how they lived.”

The children waiting to decorate, bake and then eat a soft, spicy cookie warm from the oven included a group of Tiger Cub Scouts, Pack 1462 from Rodgers Elementary, led by Jennifer Moore of Roseville.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity for them to learn a little bit of history,” Moore said. “This is great. They engage the kids. They make it enjoyable, and there’s just a ton of stuff to look at. And it smells awesome.”

Holsinger said she thinks the children learn a lot about how people lived in the past by participating.

“Everything is so technological now; they have no concept of this,” she said. You “can’t just walk in and turn the stove on and mom’s cooking.” 

But even in the 1800s, one could imagine the children might have had the same reaction as today.

Then, as now, their favorite part was likely decorating the creations, or as 6-year-old Dominic Bueti said, “putting the sprinkles on.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at kdemske@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1041.