You can take the girl out of Luton…
Smack in the middle of the eighties – which I still hold to be the best decade, musically and fashion-wise (though I admit to harbouring some bias on this) – I did a German Language Exchange Trip through my secondary school. Luton and Hamburg were an odd pairing; the kids of that rather attractive northern German river port city must surely have been a tad disappointed when they discovered that the attractions of Luton amounted to little more than a biscuit-shaped pincushion in the local museum and a pink flamingos fountain in the Arndale shopping centre.
The (frankly marvellous) pink flamingos have long since gone, which is a huge shame as they were one of Luton’s best (if not only) attractions.
Worried I might be imagining the biscuit-shaped pincushion (though my little sister remembers it too), I made a call to the museum last week and was delighted to hear back from one of their specialist curators that they do indeed have a biscuit-shaped pincushion in their collection (though it’s not currently on display). It dates from around 1870 and was produced as an advertising product by Huntley, Albert & Palmers. I should add at this point that the museum did, of course, have a great deal more on display than the biscuit-shaped pincushion, including no-doubt-excellent exhibits about the local hat- and lace-making industries for which Luton was, once upon a time, quite famous. It’s just that, as a teenager, little of this captured my attention; I’d probably appreciate it much more today!
And, by the way, did you know that the expression ‘mad as a hatter’ originated in Luton?
Anyway, back to Germany…
I’d actually already dropped German from my curriculum by the time the trip came around. We signed up for the exchange in our second year but travelled in our third by which time, having mastered only ‘ich liebe dich’ and ‘du bist eine dumme ganz’, I decided to focus on French, which I found immeasurably easier. I added one more phrase to my German knowledge some years later, by the way; even today I still like to point at random plants and declare ‘das is kein gummebaum’ (that is not a rubber plant) – a very useful phrase, I’m sure you’ll agree?
Luckily, the majority of people I met in Germany spoke superb English, so I got along just fine.
My host family showed me around Hamburg, of course. It’s an attractive city and the views from the revolving restaurant up in the Heinrich-Hertz-Turm comms tower were beautiful. I also spent a few days visiting German Schleswig – a school trip within a school trip – with my exchange partner’s class.
One of the days I remember most fondly was a family outing to nearby Lübeck, just an hour’s drive away or 45 minutes by train.
Situated on the River Trave, Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, and a major port in the area. For several centuries it was the leading city of the Hanseatic League, a commercial confederation of merchant guilds and market downs that dominated trade in Northern Europe, stretching along the coast from the Baltic to the North Sea. The Old Town, on an island enclosed by the Trave, is famous for its extensive brick gothic architecture and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Images of Lubeck from Shutterstock.com
It was not just the beauty of Lübeck that won my heart, oh no! Lübeck is also famous for its marzipan. And I really, really love marzipan!
A local legend suggests that marzipan was first made in the city in response to either a military siege or a local famine. The story goes that the town ran out of all foodstuffs except stored almonds and sugar, and these were combined to make loaves of marzipan “bread”.
In reality, marzipan is believed to have been invented far earlier, most likely in Persia though historians are undecided between a Persian and an Iberian origin.
Niederegger have been making marzipan in Lübeck for over two centuries, and relate the story from the perspective of founder Johann Georg Niederegger.
Our 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) and 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 enquiring 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 sugar and spices. Not until confectionary 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 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 since my death. That way, Niederegger Marzipan remains what it has always been: a delicious speciality made from the very best almonds. New York, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, a sweetmeat goes on tour … Niederegger stands for “marzipan of world renown”.
The quality of Niederegger marzipan is certainly renowned, as is that of slightly younger Lübeck marzipan manufacturer Carstens (founded in 1845, 39 years after Niederegger).
At its core, marzipan consists of nothing more than ground almonds mixed with either sugar or honey. These days, a wide range of marzipan is available; many commercial versions contain a comparatively low volume of almonds; instead they contain more sugar with the flavour boosted by almond oils and extracts or even cheaper synthetic almond flavourings. They are often sickly sweet.
Niederegger marzipan is the very good stuff. With a high ratio of almonds to sugar, the flavour is subtle and natural and the sweetness is not overwhelming.
Germany grades marzipan according to the following ratios:
- Marzipanrohmasse (raw marzipan) contains 65% ground almonds and 35% sugar. When you see a label of 100:0 or 100%, it means 100% raw marzipan with no additional sugar added, not that there is no sugar at all.
- Niederegger Marzipan is raw marzipan, made to the 65:35 almond to sugar ration and labelled as 100:0 (100% raw marzipan).
- Lübecker Edelmarzipan (Lübeck fine marzipan) is described as 90:10. That means it’s 90% raw marzipan mixed with an extra 10% sugar. Don’t forget, that 90% is not 90% almonds but a mix of almonds and sugar. More sugar is added to that raw marzipan paste. That means the ratio of almond to sugar falls to around 58:42 (58% almonds, 42% sugar).
Lübeck marzipan has a PDO (protected designation of origin) and the label can only be used for marzipan manufactured in the region to the 90:10 ratio.
- Gütemarzipan (quality marzipan) must be 80:20. It’s made of 80% raw marzipan and 20% sugar. Almond makes up 62% of the total and sugar the other 28%.
- Edelmarzipan (fine marzipan) is described as 70:30. It’s made of 70% raw marzipan and 30% sugar. The almond now makes up only 45% of the total and sugar the other 55%.
- Gewöhnliches marzipan (ordinary or consumer marzipan) is described as 50:50, so is half raw marzipan and half sugar. That means only a third of the total content is almond and two thirds is sugar.
- There are also other designations such as Königsberger marzipan, which is no longer associated with place of manufacture but describes a style of marzipan that usually contains almonds, sugar, egg white and lemon juice and has a distinctive golden brown colour.
For anyone looking for high quality marzipan, you can buy Niederegger here in the UK – I’ve seen different products from their range on sale in John Lewis, Waitrose and Tesco and of course, you can buy online (from the same stores plus Chocolatesdirect.co.uk, Ocado and Amazon, to name a few).
Probably the most common Niederegger product is marzipan coated in dark-chocolate, which is always wrapped in red foil. Blue foil denotes a milk chocolate coating and other colours of foil indicate flavoured marzipans such as apple, caramel, espresso, orange and pistachio – the latter being one of my personal favourites. There is also a liqueur range available.
It’s my pleasure to join with Niederegger in giving away two hampers worth £25 each to readers of Kavey Eats!
Each hamper contains:-
- 1 x Milk chocolate marzipan bar
- 1 x Dark chocolate marzipan bar
- 1 x 125g Marzipan loaf
- 1 x 200g 16 Piece mini loaves assortment
- 1 x 100g 8 Piece mini loaves classic
- 1 x 40g Marzipan stick
- 6 x Mini Loaves
- 1 x Gift hamper box
- Free delivery within the UK
HOW TO ENTER
You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:
Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment sharing a memory of language lessons at school, when you were a kid.
Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a marzipan hamper from @niederegger_uk and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsMarzipan #KaveyEatsMarzipan
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet and please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)
RULES & DETAILS
- The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 1st May 2015.
- The 2 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog, twitter and instagram) using a random number generator.
- Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
- Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
- Each prize is a hamper of Niederegger produts, as detailed above and includes delivery within the UK.
- The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
- The prizes are offered and provided by Niederegger .
- One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
- For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
- The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.
Kavey Eats received sample products from Niederegger.