At Roman's Famous Meats and Seafood, an Eastern and Northern European specialty store in Honesdale, Penn., I expected to find spaetzle, flatbreads, herring and stollen.
I didn't expect to find a little man made of marzipan, excreting a silvery paper coin.
I can see serving little fruit-shaped marzipan on a plate or cookie tray, but this guy? How best to serve him? Coin turned toward the guest, or away?
He was on display near the counter, where assorted candy bars and sugar wafer treats from Germany were stacked.
Next to him was an equally curious little marzipan man wearing a top hat, carrying a ladder and riding a pig. A German friend of mine said the pair are good luck symbols.
"On New Year Eve's (Silvester or St. Sylvestre) or on New Year's Day (Neujahr), Germans usually give each others small marzipan pigs, or cards with pigs, chimney sweeps, one pfennig coins, horse shoes, lady bugs or four-leaf clovers," my friend Randi said. "All of which are considered to bring good luck to the owner."
(By one account, Germans also eat jelly-filled doughnuts...and mustard-filled ones, too.)
According to Wikipedia, Marzipan and marizpan pigs are also traditionally exchanged on Sinterklaas — the feast day of St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus — on December 5.
Notice the name on the plastic covering: "Lubecker Marzipan." The German town of Lubeck is famous for its marzipan. The website German Food Guide says the commercial manufacture of marzipan there dates to 1806. To be called "Lubecker marzipan," the confection needs to be made in Lubeck and have a certain almond to sugar ratio.
I haven't had a lot of marzipan, and when I have, I haven't been impressed. That may be because I'm not getting the real deal. Wikipedia warns that many products sold as marzipan are made from less expensive materials, such as soy paste, almond essence and ground-up apricot seeds or peach stones (which is actually a confection called persipan).
Time to make some myself. I'll skip the pooping boy, and make a pig.
(Photo: Chimney Sweep Riding a Marzipan Pig: A good luck symbol in Germany. Honesdale, PA./ Amy Eddings for WNYC)