What Is a Marzipan Pig?

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Once molded, the marzipan is painted with food coloring.
Once molded, the marzipan is painted with food coloring. (Image: 2007/Alice Wiegand)

In Germany, Norway and Denmark, the gift of a marzipan pig at Christmas and the New Year symbolizes good luck and fortune in the year to come. Marzipan pigs sometimes come with four-leaf clovers, coins or other symbols of good luck in their mouths.

Pigs and Luck

A common saying in Germany is "ich habe Schwein gehabt," (literally translated: "I have had pig"), which means "I've been lucky!" The saying is believed to have originated with German farm families, who counted themselves lucky if they had a pig, which meant they would have meat to survive the winter. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Glucksschwein, or lucky pig, became a symbol on German greeting cards, charms, Christmas ornaments and holiday treats, including chocolate, peppermint and marzipan pigs.

Traditions

In Germany, a marzipan pig is given as a gift or stocking stuffer between Christmas and New Year's Day to bestow good fortune on friends and loved ones in the coming year. In Norway and Denmark, a tradition involves a rice pudding or porridge with a whole almond baked inside. The person who finds the almond in the dish receives a prize, usually a lucky marzipan pig.

Making Marzipan Pigs

Once you've made the basic marzipan or bought some, it's as easy as using modeling clay to make the basic pig shapes. Note that homemade marzipan tastes infinitely better than anything you can buy. You can either color all the marzipan pink or paint it later with food coloring. They can be as realistic or as whimsical as you like.

Buying Marzipan Pigs

While marzipan is relatively easy to make from ground almonds, the craft of sculpting marzipan is an art form and many prefer to get their marzipan pigs from a favorite bakery or confectionery shop. Pink marzipan pigs are the most traditional symbol of good luck, but edible pigs are also made of chocolate, peppermint and cake. Some areas of Upstate New York have peppermint pigs.

History of Marzipan

In addition to being tasty, marzipan's claylike texture makes it a good choice for sculpting into novel and decorative shapes, such as flowers, fruits, vegetables and animals. For centuries, the rarity of almonds and sugar cane made marzipan a treat for the privileged classes only. It wasn't until the 1950s that modern sugar processing methods made marzipan an everyday treat throughout Europe, especially Spain and Germany, which are renowned for their marzipan.

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