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marzipan frogMarzipan: A Sweet and Tasty History
by Marjorie Dorfman

Where did this delightful holiday treat originate? Who were the first lucky people to savor the sweetness of marzipan and how did it get its unusual name? These and other questions will be addressed below. Read on and dare to be sweet even if it is not your meditation nature.

History records marzipan as a valued blend of crushed almonds and honey that dates back to 1800 BC in ancient Egypt. In all probability, however, the mixing of these two ingredients dates back even further to man’s beginning. There are several legends associated with the birth of marzipan and to this day they must remain as such.

It is known that marzipan was prized by the Emperors of Rome and became an important part of Italy’s culinary heritage as marzapane (March bread). Marzipan is the earliest documentation of the word, but original etymology remains unclear. One possible meaning derives from a Middle Latin word meaning small box and another as set forth in the Oxford English dictionary, argues that the word marzipan may well be a corruption of Marta ban, a Burmese city famous for its decorative jars.

marzipan and santa According to one legend, marzipan was so valued in the early villages along the Nile River that it was used as barter coins known as march pans. It is believed to have thus possibly spread throughout the world, but it is more likely that its origins are Arabic (Persian to be exact), and that the Crusaders carried it back to their homeland during the Dark Ages where it was made by nuns in France. It became well known as march pane in Europe by the 13th century. This particular confection is known for its ability (not by itself, of course) to be sculpted into fantastic shapes. These included figures of men, animals, trees and castles made from sugar paste and jelly and they were served to royal audiences at the end of each course of medieval feasting.

queen elizabeth Sometimes the figures had allegorical meanings and bore written mottoes that pertained to the specific occasion. In some instances, they were highly complex and ritualistic, symbolizing the Trinity and other religious subjects. They were always admired and properly lauded before slipping down royal gullets. During the reign of Elizabeth I, a marchpane was produced regularly as the chief showpiece of the banquet and it became very popular among the Elizabethan elite as Saint Marks Pain.

The cherished dessert was always made of ground almonds and sugar on a base of wafer biscuits and formed into a round. (A hoop of green hazelwood was sometimes used to insure the proper shape.) The frosting was made with sugar and rosewater and made the confection shine like ice. This was an important part of the marzipan’s preparation as was the gilding of decorative shapes in gold leaf.

Marzipan is well documented from the Renaissance to the present day. During the Renaissance, the kings of France cherished marzipan and had it baked into small cookies called masepains. Marzipan became a specialty of the Baltic Sea Region of Germany, particularly the city of Lubeck. Niederegger, the city’s chief manufacturer, guarantee that their marzipan contains 2/3 almonds by weight, which results in a bright yellow product. In the Middle East, marzipan is known as lozina, which is derived from the word, lows (the Arabic word for almonds). In that part of the world, the marzipan is flavored with orange-flower water and shaped into delicate floral designs before baking.

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food humor"Britain is the only country where the food is more dangerous than the sex."
Jackie Mason

"I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage."
Erma Bombeck

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