The pig has been an important animal in Northern Europe for centuries, and its meat has been enjoyed by the rich to poor in society. The pig has had a central place at the Yule table (Old Norse: Jól) since the holiday was celebrated for the very first time, and because Christmas has its roots in Norse paganism, it is only natural that it has inherited some of the earlier traditions.
When an animal like the pig has such great importance to society, traditions, myths, and sagas, become a big part of the celebration of the pig. The significance of the pig can be traced back to the Viking Age, were the people in Scandinavia would butcher a pig in celebration of Yule.
In the old Norse sagas, there is a pig called Sæhrímnir who lives in the great halls of Valhalla (Pagans’ version of heaven). Sæhrímnir is a magical pig because the meat from this pig can feed the entire population of Valhalla. Every time the cook named Andhrímnir slices a piece from its meat, it grows back instantly.
What is a Marzipan pig?
The marzipan pig is a very old traditional Northern European confectionery, which has been made during the Christmas month for more than a century. In Scandinavia, it is a tradition to use the marzipan pig, as an almond present for the dish Risalamande on Christmas Eve. In Germany, the marzipan is given at New Year’s to symbolize good luck for the coming year, a good luck pig (In German: Glücksschwein).
Alternative Marzipan pig
During the second world war, almonds were in very short supply in Europe, so the people in Northern Europe came up with the idea of making the marzipan pig from potatoes instead. Of course, this was not as tasty as the pig made from marzipan, but it kept the spirit high during Christmas, and it was not necessarily obvious that it was made from a potato when it was hanging on the Christmas tree.
When was marzipan invented?
Marzipan was allegedly invented in the Persian Empire during the 6th century. The knowledge of marzipan would spread from Persia to the Byzantine empire. During the Crusade of the Holy land in the 12th century, the Europeans learned about the marzipan and brought the knowledge back with them.
However, the origin of marzipan is highly debated, and there are multiple opinions on how and where it was invented. In Spain a lot of people are of the opinion, that marzipan was invented in the 11th century in the city of Toledo. When there was a famine in the town, one of the nuns came up with the idea to bake a loaf of bread from an almond paste with sugar.
In Italy, it is believed that marzipan was invented by accident during medieval times in the city of Venice. When a baker’s daughter had by a mistake chopped too many almonds and mixed them with sugar and water.
The Germans also have their own story on how marzipan was invented. In Germany, it is firmly believed that it was a German chef named Frantz Marcip, that had invented marzipan during the 17th century for a party.
Why is it called marzipan?
It is strange that so many languages in Europe almost have the same name for marzipan, as the shortlist below shows.
- Danish – Marcipan
- Swedish – Marsipan
- German – Marzipan
- English – Marzipan
- Italian – Marzapane
- Spanish – Mazapá
- Russian – Марципан
However, there could be a simple reason for this, and the word marzipan could originate from how it was packaged during the middle ages. Allegedly the marzipan was sold in small packages, decorated with a small image from either a coin from the Byzantine Empire or a coin from the Republic of Venice.
Allegedly the price for one of these boxes with marzipan was one mautheban, which was one of the coins from the Republic of Venice with an image of Christ sitting on a throne. So the name marzipan might originate from the price, and the packaging, from when it was sold in the beginning.
Ingredients in marzipan
There are typically three main ingredients in marzipan, sugar, almonds, and a little rose water. The distinctive taste that makes the marzipan taste so good, comes mainly from the bitter almonds. Every marzipan bar normally contains about 4-6% bitter almonds. When you want to make a marzipan pig, you can choose among the two different types of marzipan, pure marzipan, or marzipan for baking. Most people use pure marzipan because it is not necessary to do any baking to make the marzipan pig.
Marzipan can be good for you
While marzipan contains a lot of sugar, it is actually good for you in small doses if you have constipation. Before the overseas trade with both America and the East Indies began to take off, marzipan was sold at the pharmacy, along with wine, liquor, spices, and confectionery. However, marzipan was very expensive, and it was only the upper-class that could afford to purchase it.
Marzipan candy is popular during Christmas
It was in the first half of the 19th century, that marzipan for Christmas (in Danish: Jul) began to become indispensable for the upper class in Northern European society. People would either purchase figures made from marzipan and hang them on the Christmas tree (In Danish: Juletræet) or make the marzipan figures themselves. The marzipan figures, such as the marzipan pig, would hang on the tree during the month of December, and then be eaten on Christmas Eve.
The marzipan pig is used as a present
In Denmark, it is a tradition to eat rice porridge with almonds called Risalamande each year on Christmas Eve. In this dish, there is a hidden almond, and whoever finds this almond will get a marzipan pig as a present.
The best marzipan to make figures
Before we can begin making a marzipan pig, we obviously need some marzipan. We can either make the marzipan ourselves or choose the easy solution and purchase some ready-made marzipan. There are many different brands to pick from, and you can just get your favorite one.
Personally, I have tried a bunch of different ones, on my hunt to find the best marzipan, and my journey led me to try some of the worst marzipans that had a weird chemical aftertaste.
I always fell back to the same brand ”Odense Marcipan” which has some of the best marzipans, at least in my eyes. You can purchase one or more packs through this link to Amazon, so you can get started on making your own marzipan pig for Christmas.
There are two ways to make the marzipan pig, you can choose to form one with your hands, or you can use a marzipan pig mold, you can get one on Amazon by following this link.
How to make a Marzipan pig
- You can make multiple marzipan pigs from the 500 grams, firstly you should cut the marzipan into smaller pieces.
- Roll some of the marzipans into one small ball, which has approximately the size of a golf ball, this will be the body.
- Then roll four smaller marzipan balls, these will be its feet.
- Roll a tiny ball, and press it flat, put two small holes in it, this is the nose.
- Roll a long piece of marzipan, that is wider in one end, this will be its tale.
- Take two small pieces of marzipan and shape them into pig ears.
- Now you just need to put them together and you got yourself a marzipan pig.
- Tip: You can dip the lower part of the pig into some melted chocolate.