The break-room table in the lab has been filled with tantalizing goodies since the beginning of the month, and I have succumbed to a nibble on more than one afternoon when my energy was ebbing and the pile of prostate biopsies seemed to be growing faster than Pinocchio’s nose at a Trump rally. Today I passed up the tin filled with two types of popcorn–but no a “Chicago mix.” I resisted the 2-day old, stale dregs of what was once a dozen aromatic Dunkins. I didn’t look twice at the tin of tooth-cracking peanut brittle. Instead, I opted for the box of See’s Assorted Chocolate Candies.
This particular box lacked a road map or GPS, so I had no idea what I would be tasting after I bit into the rectangular piece of dark chocolate that I had selected. The first taste of the filling left me a bit perplexed until I recognized the sweet, almondy, flavor of marzipan. And the boyhood memories came back.
My mom and dad, immigrants from Austria and Germany respectively, were 90% Americanized in their tastes, but some European touches still found their way to our home and table. My mother would occasionally prepare rolladen, beef roll-ups flavored with mustard and a surprise pickle spear in the middle. I loved Mom’s Wiener Schnitzel, back when veal was still served in most homes–but avoided sauerbraten, which tasted as bad as it sounded.
But my memories today were more of the small things that my mother brought at two German grocery stores, Delicatessen Kuhn’s (the original in Chicago) and Delicatessen Meyers on Lincoln Avenue.
The marzipan came shaped like flowers or ripe fruit, decorated with bright, probably toxic, food coloring. Himbersäft, a raspberry syrup, was purchased in glass bottles of about 10 or 12 ounces. My father would pour a few drops into sparkling water for an evening refresher. Ice Cubes were small squares of German chocolate in a gold aluminum wrapper. I would place them in the freezer before enjoying one each night, a habit I still have with chocolate candy. And for crunch, there were Manner Schnitten, crumbly thin cookie wafers surrounding hazelnut filling, a particular favorite of my aunt. She handed them out to trick-or-treaters, making her apartment the least favorite stop on the block on Halloween.
But the biggest German treat did not come from any local store, in fact, it was illegal to sell in the USA–or so my adolescent self was told. Each year in early December my Swiss uncle would send Dad a special candy treat. I still remember the ceremonial feel as he slid the wooden box top along the grooves in the cheap wood box. Inside were two layers, each with about 30 candies–small, hollow dark chocolate balls, filled with different premium liqueurs. The wrapper on each candy demonstrated the logo of the treat inside. Dad would savor two pieces of candy each evening (just about the only time I saw him consume alcohol) while occasionally offering one to Mom, Linda, or me. My first taste of the good stuff! By the end of the year, the candies were gone, and the box became a knick-knack drawer. If any of you know the brand name of the chocolate box I am describing, let me know. I have forgotten the brand name and can’t find it on the Web.
Proust had his madeleine cakes to remind him of his past, now I have my marzipan–the link to memories that had long been buried. It is good to remember.
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