Marzipan pigs, a Christmas tradition
Heidi Håvan Grosch
Playing with marzipan is like playing with play dough… except you can eat it! In Norway it is used to cover cakes, often cakes filled with cream. Yum! It is also a traditional Norwegian Christmas treat.
Marzipan is a paste made of almond, milk, and sugar. It is very popular in many places in Europe. In Germany, Schwein gehabt or “having a pig” means being lucky. This expression goes back to the medieval times when a farmer who had a lot of pigs that year was really lucky.
When you give someone a marzipan pig, you are wishing him or her good luck for the next year. If you find an almond in your traditional Christmas porridge, you might get a marzipan pig for a prize. In the very, very olden days, a single lady wanted to find the almond because it meant she would get married the next year!
A little history
Marzipan became popular in a town called Lübeck, a popular trading town in Germany during the medieval times. Lübeck is also one of the best places to buy marzipan today. There is a place there called Niederegger Café that ships 30 kg (over 66 pounds) of marzipan per day to more than 40 countries in the world. Around 300 people work there, still making most of the marzipan pigs by hand. A man named Burkhard Leu even made it into the Guinness Book for creating the world’s largest marzipan pig!
Norway’s marzipan pigs have been made by the Nidar chocolate factory in Trondheim since 1915. Every year Norwegians eat 45 million marzipan candies. In fact, over half of all Norwegians love Christmas marzipan, and there is even research to prove it! Marzipan came to Norway in the 1800s, becoming widely produced in the 1900s. Marzipan candies and pigs are still mostly handmade. Norwegians eat so much marzipan candy during Christmas that Nidar has to hire 50 extra workers!
Family time is the best time of all
Many of us are very busy, so time together is a very precious gift. Your Christmas gift to your family this year could be to turn off the TV, turn off the computer, and sit down to work on a project. How about making your own barnyard of marzipan animals together and maybe even a pig or two? Cook up some Christmas porridge, either rømmegrøt or risengrynsgrøt, and hide an almond. Surprise the winner with a handmade marzipan pig!
Make your own marzipan
You can buy finished marzipan to make all sorts of animals. Add a bit of food coloring to the marzipan and use it like play dough. If you can’t find marzipan, you can make it yourself.
Here is a recipe for making your own marzipan from Gingerbread House Heaven (www.gingerbread-house-heaven.com/marzipan-recipe.html):
1 cup almond paste
2 tbsps. white Karo syrup
½ cup marshmallow cream
2 cups powdered sugar
Combine the almond paste, karo syrup, and marshmallow cream.
Add the powdered sugar, a small amount at a time. As the mixture becomes too thick to stir, knead in the rest of the powdered sugar until you have a pliable dough.
If it’s too sticky to work with (especially if making figures by hand), add powdered sugar until it’s firm but not dry.
How to make your own marzipan pig
• Instructions: www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/537866/marzipan-pigs
• Video: www.seriouseats.com/2010/12/marzipan-history-what-is-it-almonds.html
• A picture book called The Marzipan Pig: www.goodreads.com/book/show/1230843.The_Marzipan_Pig
• Marzipan factory in Germany: munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/4xbn8b/germanys-sweet-spot-is-this-marzipan-factory
• Norwegian pigs made at Nidar: www.nidar.no/Produkter/Marsipan/Julemarsipan/Nidar-Julemarsipan
• The making of Norwegian Christmas Marzipan (in Norwegian): www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT9FNA8PVro
This article is a part of Barneblad, a monthly feature by Heidi Håvan Grosch to share with kids and grandkids.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 17, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.