Is the American Passover Macaroon a Descendant of the Alsatian Macaron?

Last summer I visited Colmar, a town in the northeastern region of Alsace bordering Germany, that looked like it was right out of a Disney fairly tale. Since the 17th century, Alsace moved back and forth under German and French control, and walking through Colmar I could easily see the influence of both in its architecture as well as its food. The Jewish community of Alsace is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the 11th century, and at its peak in 1870 came to about 35,000.1 In doing a little research online, I came across a paper by the sociologist Anny Bloch-Raymond noting that the first major influx of Jews from the Alsace-Lorraine region and Germany to America was from 1820 to 1860 (with the majority settling in New York from 1830-1850  2) for economic reasons, while the later wave of immigration from 1872-1918 was because of cultural and political reasons.3

Macaroons_Alsace_4

While meandering along Colmar’s winding streets, I noticed a local bakery that sold unique Alsatian pastries. When I got close enough to take a better look, I discovered small parcel-shaped cakes called macarons that looked exactly like the Passover macaroons I had grown up with in New York!

Macaroons_Alsace_3

I eagerly purchased a variety of flavors ranging from orange, passion fruit, and rum raisin, to almond, pistachio, and chocolate. When I tasted them, the texture was similar to the American-Jewish coconut-based macaroon, but the flavor was richer (and well, better). I went back to ask the woman working in the store if these macarons had any flour in them, and she explained that while it was mostly made of dried ground coconut, or contained ground nuts (such as pistachios or almonds), there was indeed some kind of regular flour mixed in (which explained the difference in texture).

Macaroons_Alsace_1

It appears to me that the Alsatian-German macaron that I tasted in Colmar is directly related to the Jewish-American Passover macaroon, brought over by German and Alsatian Jewish immigrants who settled in New York and other northeastern cities in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The macaron (made with dried coconut and/or nuts, flour, egg whites, and sugar) likely evolved into the macaroon (made with the same ingredients, minus the flour), which made it perfect for serving during Passover when flour is avoided.

FOOTNOTES:

1 Dreyfus, Jean-Marc. “Histoire et mémoire des Juifs d’Alsace : recherches actuelles.” Seminar November -June, 2006-2007.

2 Bloch-Raymond, Anny. “Enemies abroad, Friends in the United States: Jewish Diaspora from Alsace-Lorraine vs. Jewish Diaspora From Germany, 19th century-20th century.” CNRS November 16, 17, 2002, Dickinson College, published by the Clarke Center, Contemporary Issue series, nov. 2004, p. 8.

3 Bloch-Raymond, Anny. 1995. “A la merci de courants violents, les émigrés juifs de l’Est de la France aux Etats-Unis. In Revue des sciences sociales de la France de l’Est,” (22) 110-121.

Advertisements

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Is the American Passover Macaroon a Descendant of the Alsatian Macaron?

  1. Lori April 4, 2017 at 9:05 am Reply

    I read your post (loved it, as always) but was intrigued by the mystery of coconut in macaroons! The tradition of nut-based macaroons dates back centuries. Almonds most certainly were the nut of choice. However, coconut seems to have seeped into the culinary mindset vis-à-vis macaroons in the 19th century. It appears (and I could not find a direct academic source) that there are two unverified theories about coconut: one that it may have been an American innovation in the late 1800’s when coconut palms were introduced to agriculture in the United States (The Language of Food reference below) or a French innovation because of shipping-related spoilage concerns (also from the 1890s….the cor.ca cite below). Both theories reference a fascination with coconut – an exotic ingredient at the time!

    Even more interestingly, Gil Marks in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food traces the history of the macaroon and references a recipe for “cocoanut” macaroons in an 1871 Philadelphia cookbook, which predates the other mentions. He also has a recipe for Raricha (flourless coconut cookie from Morocco) in a later chapter!

    So this truly remains a real mystery!!! Was there documentation of the Alsatian use of coconut in macaroons in the Dreyfus reference? I would love to know!

    Interesting articles:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2011/11/macarons_macaroons_and_macaroni_the_curious_history.html
    http://www.cor.ca/view/442/a_brief_history_of_macaroons.html
    http://languageoffood.blogspot.com/2011/04/macaroons-macarons-and-macaroni.html

    • Jennifer Abadi April 4, 2017 at 9:22 am Reply

      Thank you for your comment Lori! The addition and use of coconut is definitely an interesting thing to look into. It is not uncommon to have certain foods or natural ingredients bounce back and forth between cultures far away from one another. It reminds me of the tomato, a fruit native to the Americas, that found a new home in Italian cooking. To me, the tomato is almost synonymous with Italian cuisine, yet it is a derivative of the New World. The potato is yet another example of a vegetable most likely originating in South America/The Americas, which has become a staple in European cooking.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Seder

A Simple Passover Service

Eshkol HaKofer

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

too GOOD to PASSOVER

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

In my Iraqi Kitchen: Recipes, History and Culture, by Nawal Nasrallah

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

KOSHER LIKE ME

COMING SOON

my madeleine

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

A Kosher Christmas

'Tis the Season to be Jewish

SEPHARDIC FOOD

an exploration and celebration of the Judeo-Spanish culinary legacy

%d bloggers like this: