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The Massepein Christmas Tradition
by Rochelle Valasek
11/16/04
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A Massepein Christmas Tradition



Such a simple formula, yet itís a tradition in my family. A foreign delicacy, however, it is only an ingredient or an embellishment here in America. Thanks to my grandmother, or as we call her, ďGramĒ, the family has had the pleasure of tasting the true experience of marzipan.

My Gram was from Belgium. Over in Belgium they call it Massepein (mussa--pine).
Her family would send us massepein every winter from across the ocean. It was a package that I looked forward to as a child. The parcel would come as a loaf all enveloped in stiff brown wrapping paper secured with woven white twine. As soon as my Papa would walk through the door with the package under his arm, my Gram would quickly, yet lovingly, take it and slice a piece for me. I loved to roll the almond flavored paste between the palms of my hands forming small balls and placing them on a toothpick before biting into the soft candy. It was the only time I was actually allowed to play with my food.

As time passed, we stopped receiving the anticipated packages. Iím not quite sure why. Or it could be that I forgot, which might be a good thing. Maybe it is because they thought we got tired of it, or maybe itís that they got tired of sending it over. But there were a few of us that were heart broken when the treat from Belgium ceased. My Gram finally decided she would get her Belgian Cookbooks out and translate the recipe into English. With some perseverance, her marzipan came out better than what we got straight from Belgium. Gramís marzipan became a Christmas tradition.
My Gram used to tell us about the tradition over in Belgium of St. Nickís Day. They would put out their little shoes out on their stoop and in the morning they would find treats in their shoes from St. Nick. The best part was the Massepein. It was shaped in little fruits and some looking like an egg cooked in a toy skillet. I have had the fruit ones here in the states, but they are nowhere near the way Iíve been accustomed to.

Marzipan is still one of my favorite parts of Christmas. It just simply had always been one of my cherished treasures from my Gramís home country. Iíve become accustomed to it through my childhood up into my adult years.

For my wedding shower, each guest brought a recipe to put in a basket. When I got home to look, there in the midst of all those index cards one stuck out the most. There was the recipe for marzipan, in Flemish. But I wasnít going to get the English version yet. It brought tears of joy, as when a father or grandfather passes on a pocket watch. It was a ďYouíve grown up and Iím trusting you with thisĒ moment. Sounds silly I know, but it-felt special just the same.

As I got older I started realizing I had to appreciate every moment. I would spend a lot of time at my Papa and Gramís house. One day when my Gram was about to make her grocery list for Papa, as she always did, she announced that she was going to make some marzipan for me to take home. This wasnít out of the ordinary, what she said next was. She wanted us to make it together. Gram wanted to give me the recipe in English and teach me how to make it.

ďSomeone in the family has to know how to make it!Ē She said as a matter of factly.

ďO-okay.Ē I answered back excited, half stunned, and a bit hesitant. After all, what was she trying to say?

My Gram passed away in November of 2001. And I now have the recipe for marzipan, both in English and Flemish. Three Christmasí had past before I could make it by myself; I just kept picturing my Gramís hands kneading the dough-like consistency with her strong but loving hands. I could see us laughing together, how she would puree the almonds till they smoked and the food processor sounded as if the belt would burn up.

Last Christmas I used these memories to comfort me, to feel Gram kneading the marzipan from heaven, to give me courage to get the recipe out of the drawer and keep the family tradition alive with love. And I will do it again, this Christmas.


[Side bar]
Marzipan
3 Eggs Whites
8 (2oz) Slivered Almonds (without skins)
2 Ĺ Cups of powdered sugar
1 tsp Almond Extract

Puree the 8 pkg. of almonds in food processor until it makes a paste. (Youíll know when itís done by the smoke coming from the processor and almonds.) Then you can mix the 3 egg whites in the processor with the paste and also add the almond extract. You may add the powdered sugar slowly until the processor will not mix the consistency any longer. When it cannot handle it, take out the mixture and put it into a bowl and hand knead it. When the Marzipan is mixed well, form it into a loaf, or make it into four small tubes. Keep it refrigerated, wrapped in cellophane.




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