Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The annual chocolate pilgrimage

This morning I made my annual Christmas-season pilgrimage to my local Aldi supermarket. Nominally I am not much of a fan of Aldi. The unknown brands and generic packaging give me the heebie-jeebies; I know it's economical and practical to shop there, but I can't overcome the teachings of my childhood. Example: when I was about thirteen years old I took a summer job babysitting the little girl across the street, all day every day. We lived in a well-to-do community (University Park, MD) and her father owned a printing business. To all appearances, they were well off. One day I opened their pantry to make the child lunch, and saw that-- dramatic pause-- ALL THE PRODUCTS ON THEIR SHELVES WERE STORE BRANDS. I remember my dismay at realizing they had been HIDING their POVERTY from the whole community all this time. I wish I was joking about this. It's not that I was a snob, because I really was not. I insisted on writing "Hyattsville" as my return address because "University Park"-- printed on all my parents' address labels-- seemed to snooty and was not the official mailing address. But I had grocery shopped every week with my father since I was very young, and he only ever bought national brands. So this was the impression I had about how things were done.

Of course, that changed when I married a construction worker at age 20 and got pregnant the following Thursday. Such situations force you to examine your values, and it didn't take long for me to determine that Lender's bagels spread with Philadelphia cream cheese wouldn't taste as good if I was eating them in a refrigerator box in a vacant lot. So I started buying store brands then, and still do-- all the time. Nevertheless, a store brand tied into the place where you're buying it still has a different feel from a box with a mystery name on it that looks like it might have dropped in from the sky. So I tend not to buy a whole lot at Aldi.

But all that changes around the holidays, when the bargain grocery suddenly receives an influx of German Christmas goodies. I have even found the strange little fried-egg-shaped star candies that are one of the greatest oddities among that country's holiday traditions. In my above photo, you can see what I found in early November: glazed gingerbread (it is fantaaaaastic), pfeffernusse cookies, mushroom spaetzle (not Christmas-related, but it looked tasty), and chocolate coins for our Chanukah celebration. There is also a bag of chocolate Santas, because, like the McFarlands in The Kingdom of Childhood, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day with our kids every year, stuffing toys and candy into their boots on the night of December 5th. And in the front there you can see two boxes of lebkuchen. These are the soft cookies that are described in the opening scene of the novel, and boy oh boy, Aldi's are delicious. I tore into the box within seconds of taking this photo. As is traditional, they are baked onto oblaten:

This is the "starchy white disk" described in the book-- identical to the ones used for the Eucharist during Mass. And they are, indeed, quite tasty. It wouldn't be a proper lebkuche without one.

All together, these items-- together with a box of (name-brand) freezer pops-- totaled about $25. So I highly recommend a trip to Aldi this holiday season. And if you buy other items too, hey, I won't judge. I'll just eat my generic spaetzle and mind my own business.


  1. That's a pretty good treasure trove you found at the Aldi's. Shiny and chocolate and doughy!

  2. Also, I've somehow missed a huge chunk of your blog posts. Whoops.

  3. I am thinking of using lebkuchen next time I fix communion.

  4. The childhood story in this post reminds me of the time we swapped babysitting and you (at my house with my kids) saw various "scratch and dent" in our cupboards. You expressed genuine amazement that I shopped in the bargain area at the grocery store; your surprise was amusing. I love a good bargain and I am definitely a penny-pincher. I love Aldi's chocolate and specialty items; even some of the store brands aren't bad. But the produce spoils too quickly.