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Marzipan

Made mostly of almonds and icing sugar, marzipan is one of the oldest sweets manufactured in Estonia, with production dating back to the Middle Ages.

Made mostly of almonds and icing sugar, marzipan is one of the oldest sweets manufactured in Estonia, with production dating back to the Middle Ages. Marzipan probably originated from Persia (modern-day Iran), where written sources first mentioned this sweet treat in the 9th century.

In the Early Middle Ages, marzipan reached Europe, where the old Hanseatic towns of Reval (now known as Tallinn) and Lübeck started manufacturing it almost simultaneously.

In addition to all sorts of more or less curative substances, marzipan was initially manufactured in Estonia at a pharmacy. More specifically, at the Town Hall Pharmacy of Tallinn, the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Europe, it is first mentioned in written records in 1422. According to a popular local legend, marzipan was invented by an assistant of the above-mentioned pharmacy. This legend became particularly famous thanks to the popular book Mardileib(Mart’s Bread)by the Estonian novelist Jaan Kross.

In pharmacy documents dating from 1695, we can find a marzipan medicine under the name Panis Martius (also Marci Panis). Another preserved document is a 17th-century order made by the above-mentioned pharmacy for the renowned Dutch sculptor Arent Passer to make two stone marzipan moulds. One of these moulds depicted Tallinn’s large coat of arms with a lion, and the other depicted a small coat of arms with a cross. Both of these were regarded as highly suitable moulds for gifts sent by the pharmacy to the aldermen on various special occasions.

During the period when Hanseatic guilds were actively operating, marzipan was made by what was known in Estonian as suhkrupagarid (sugar bakers), who became known as kondiitrid in Estonian (confectioners) from the 18th century onwards. One of them, a III Guild Swiss confectioner Lorenz Cavietzel left his mark on history in the early 19thcentury by purchasing the property on Pikk Street in the Old Town of Tallinn – the location of the modern-day Maiasmokk Café – and by starting to manufacture marzipan there, among other things.

The marzipan and chocolate factory established at the same location became even more famous in the second half of the 19th century, when Georg Johann Stude, a Baltic German from Narva, rebuilt the building and expanded it by purchasing the neighbouring plot.

Georg Stude’s exclusive marzipan products were well-known in the Governorates of Estonia and Livonia, and they were also supplied to the Russian Imperial Court in St. Petersburg, for example. Until the start of World War I, it was possible to purchase Georg Stude’s sweets from a company store in Moscow. Over the twisted course of history, Georg Stude’s company was nationalised but, fortunately, the manufacturing of marzipan figurines did not stop. Their production later continued in Estonia’s largest confectionery company, Kalev. The marzipan fruit and vegetables, animal and bird figurines, marzipan cakes and postcards with city views soon also found favour among the Kremlin’s “uncrowned rulers”. Leonid Brezhnev appreciated them particularly highly.

The very same methods and antique marzipan moulds from Stude’s store, dating back to the late 19thand early 20th century, are used to make marzipan figurines at the Maiasmokk building to thisday (approx. 200 historical marzipan moulds have been preserved). All the figurines are shaped by hand, and later painted using a brush and food colouring. That adds a piece of the artist’s soul to every figurine, thereby making it unique.

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