Arriving from Germany, my son handed me a slightly squashed gift of marzipan that he had pressed into his suitcase to bring home as a treat for the Christmas season. (Delicious! Thanks, Steve!)
Arranging the marzipan along with the chocolate chip cookies and the tasty treat from my neighbor, I decided to look into the history of marzipan. ( My husband did not think this would be one of my more inspirational or exciting blogs…but I happen to be inquisitive…so here goes. Maybe I can “spice” it up a bit with some mouth-watering German goodies in between the information.)
My research on marzipan brought me to this article on the subject of marzipan written by Johann George Niederegger who was born in 1777 in Ulm and owned Maret Confectioners in Lubeck, Germany
Niederegger wrote: “…Marzipan was invented far away, where almonds and sugar are grown. Rhazes, a Persian doctor who lived from 850 to 923, wrote a book in which he praised the curative qualities of almond and sugar paste. When the crusaders returned from the Orient, they brought with them a host of spices and Oriental secrets.
In 13th century Venice, Naples and Sicily, spices and confectionery were generally traded in tiny boxes. The enchanting word “Mataban” (box) gradually came to be used for the contents of the box: Mazapane (Italian), Massepain (French.), Marzipan (German).
Did you know that even back in the 13th century, the renowned philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas reflected upon the indulgence of eating Marzipan? In his doctrinal teaching, he reassures inquiring and anxious clerics: “Marzipan does not break the fast.”
In his stories, the great novelist Boccaccio clearly describes the correlation between passion and marzipan. In those days, marzipan was topped with gold leaf to crown the sweet temptation.
Great Hanseatic merchant boats brought spices and other prized ingredients to the North. Initially, however, only apothecaries were allowed to trade with sugar and spices. Not until confectionery became a trade in its own right were so-called ‘canditors’ allowed to produce marzipan.
The first Europeans to indulge in marzipan were kings and rich people. It has been reported that Queen Elizabeth I of England, who lived from 1533 to 1603, was addicted to all things sweet. The saying ‘regal enjoyment’ was coined.
Later, at the French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV’s sumptuous feasts, huge tables laden with marzipan were the order of the day. Marzipan reproductions of all sorts of fruits, poultry and game were created – anything you desired could be made.
In the first half of the 19th century, the general population were now able to sample the almond delicacy to their heart’s content in coffee houses. Now that sugar could be extracted from sugar beet, the costly luxury became slightly more affordable. Marzipan was also particularly popular and prized in Lübeck.
I would now like to tell you something about my life: as a young man, I left my home town of Ulm to become apprenticed to a confectioner, Maret, in Lübeck. In 1806 I was able to open up my own shop. I supplied my wares to kings and tsars. From then on, my reputation grew, thanks to excellent quality. My recipe for marzipan: as many almonds as possible, as little sugar as necessary – is secret, and has been passed on from generation to generation…”
Whether a sugary treat or the many Christmas traditions handed down from Germany to countries around the world, we can all enjoy Christmas music in any language.
The song on this video, Vom Himmel Hoch da komm’ ich her (Eine Version aus dem Jahre 1979) was written by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation. Luther wrote this hymn for his five year old son, Hans. It was not published until four years later. It was sung at the annual Christmas Eve festival at the Luther home. A man dressed as an angel would sing the opening verses. The children would greet him with the verse, “Welcome to earth, thou noble guest…” (Perhaps they even had the treats of marzipan at the festival.)
From Heaven above to earth I come,
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing.
To you, this night, is born a Child
Of Mary, chosen mother mild;
This tender Child of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all your earth.
‘Tis Christ our God, who far on high
Had heard your sad and bitter cry;
Himself will your Salvation be,
Himself from sin will make you free.
He brings those blessings long ago
Prepared by God for all below;
That in His heavenly kingdom blest
You may with us forever rest.
These are the tokens ye shall mark,
The swaddling clothes and manger dark;
There shall ye find the young Child laid,
By Whom the heavens and earth were made.
Now let us all, with gladsome cheer,
Follow the shepherds, and draw near
To see this wondrous Gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.
Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this Child, so young and fair?
The blessèd Christ Child lieth there!
Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through Whom e’en wicked men are blest!
Thou com’st to share our misery,
What can we render, Lord, to Thee!
Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How hast Thou made Thee weak and small,
To lie upon the coarse dry grass,
The food of humble ox and ass.
Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
She yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.
For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou King, so rich and great,
As ’twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.
Thus hath it pleased Thee to make plain
The truth to us, poor fools and vain,
That this world’s honor, wealth and might
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Here in my poor heart’s inmost shrine,
That I may evermore be Thine.
My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep,
I too must sing, with joyful tongue,
That sweetest ancient cradle song.
Glory to God in highest Heaven,
Who unto man His Son hath given,
While angels sing, with pious mirth,
A glad New Year to all the earth.