By our checkout we have a small container of marzipan pigs. People pick them up and ask what they are. That is when I explain the story of marzipan pigs. For the uninitiated, marzipan is a candy made from ground almonds. It can vary in quality, the best being in the class of the Niederegger classic gift box assortment you can see above. It’s a very traditional European confection at Christmas although we make sure we have some marzipan around all year round.
“Why the marzipan pigs?” People ask. Today when one only needs to run to the grocery store to pick up some pork chops, it is hard to imaging a time when only the very rich could afford to keep a pig all winter long without needing to butcher it. The tradition of giving marzipan pigs as gifts to family and friends arose out of that culture of subsistence farming. The gift of a marzipan pig during the Christmas holiday season is a wish for a prosperous new year. In Dutch we call such a gift an “aardigheidje”…a little present of thoughtfulness. Who are you thinking of this Christmas?
It would seem that piggie banks would be an automatic extension of the Christmas marzipan pig. However, the origin of piggie banks is totally unrelated. Originally money banks were made of a clay called pygg. When this evolved to making ceramic money banks in the shape of a pig is not known. Perhaps a potter’s apprentice took his master literally when he was told to make some “pygg” banks! Here are some money banks we brought in for Christmas gifts with a German influence but with a totally different result!
No matter what you call him: Santa Claus, Joulupukki, Père Noël, St. Nick, Sinterklas, Jultomten, Mikulás, Weihnachtsmann, Julenissen, Ded Moroz, Mos Craciun, Siôn Corn…tomorrow he’s coming to Welland.
For some he is a mythical magical figure, for others a historic person with a reputation for generosity or a revered saint. For almost everyone but the most die-hard Scrooge, he represents the spirit of giving.
Tomorrow in Welland, the Downtown Welland Business Development (BIA) Board will be sponsoring our annual Santa Claus parade. I will be walking the route handing out candies and coupons for the European Pantry. We hope to see you there! It starts a 4 pm.
Why do Dutch people give chocolate letters? When we receive our initial on “Pakjesavond” December 5 or at Christmas most of us just eat the delicious chocolate without wondering why this unique tradition is still practiced. The history of receiving a “letter” dates back centuries but originally letters were made of pastry. This is why almond pastry rings are still called “banket letter” by some people. I still remember my mother receiving a banket “C” for her birthday from a friend who was an excellent baker. In the days before gift
Still life with Letter Pastries by Peter Binoit, ca. 1615 Museum Amstelkring on loan from the Groninger Museum. Photo: C Myers
wrapping, parents would spread a bed sheet over the gifts for “Sinterklaas”. They would then mark the place of each child’s gift with the child’s initial. Still life paintings of old Dutch masters from the 16th & 17th centuries show these pastry initials.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Dutch chocolate industry began to make letters in chocolate. The shift to chocolate letters was quick and enthusiastic. During World War II, supply shortages meant no chocolate letters but even then letters were made of gingerbread. Once rationing ended chocolate letter manufacturing was quick to resume.
For the Dutch emigres and us, their descendants, the tradition provides a strong connection to our roots. Opas and Omas of large families can give a personalized gift to each grandchild…there is something very special about getting one’s own letter. Of course, the children who got a M or a W always thought they got more chocolate than the poor child whose name started with I. But an I for Ingrid was still better than not getting your letter if your name started with a Q, X, Y or Z. Today, however, all the letters of the alphabet are available…for a limited time, of course. We have already bagged up about 170 pre-orders for our customers on our Chocolate Letter Registry but there are still lots of letters to pick from!
Here at The European Pantry where we have customers that reflect a wide variety of heritages, we find that the idea of giving a letter is catching on with the non-Dutch customer, too. It is such a simple way to give a small personalized thank you to a hair dresser or delivery person. They also can be used as an innovative way to mark place settings at a holiday gathering. Other people use them in the historical way as name tags for gifts.
The chocolate that our letters are made of is all UTZ certified to guarantee ethical production conditions for the chocolate bean farmers and their families. Learn more about UTZ certifications here.
After 35 years this luxurious mustache has come off for Movember. Hopefully our customers will recognize John without his trademark “stache”! If you wish to contribute to his fundraising you can find him on the Movember Canada website under “johneisenwelland”.