Gelt Without Guilt
Forget the yellow mesh bag. This Hanukkah, look for ethically produced and distributed chocolate coins.
Despite my earlier shout-out to Rebecca Gomez, I am now a loyal New Yorker and must also mention Li-Lac Chocolates, a local business since 1923. It’s not kosher-certified, organic, or fair trade, but its gelt (along with that of Lake Champlain Chocolates, which is kosher-certified) was often mentioned by Tablet readers as a gelty pleasure. (I did a nonscientific Facebook poll about the best gelt, because I am all about the research.) And there’s still an ethical angle: Li-Lac uses a foiler (the machine that wraps and stamps the individual coins—a fascinating video of the foiling process is online) belonging to Madelaine Chocolate, a Rockaways company founded in 1949 by two Jewish brothers-in-law from the Lower East Side. Unfortunately, the factory in Far Rockaway flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is currently closed, which means Li-Lac’s quantities of foil-covered coins are very limited. Buy them while you can, and feel free to donate to the National Confectionery Foundation’s Rockaway Disaster Relief Fund, which supports businesses destroyed by Sandy.
Finally, there is a brand-new entry in the upscale and ethical-gelt sweepstakes. Veruca Chocolates was started by Heather Johnston, a pediatrician who decided she wanted to spend more time with her children and trained as a chocolatier at Chicago’s French Pastry School. (She still moonlights in the ER.) She scandalously dispensed with the foil and made coins modeled on actual historical currency minted in around 40 B.C.E. by King Antigonus II Mattathias, the last Judean king of the Hasmonean period. Johnston sent a sample to Tablet, where the staff went into paroxysms of culinary ecstasy, or so I am told, but I was not there, and my colleagues are greedy horrible people who did not save me any. Thus I cannot testify to Verucan deliciousness. (I can tell you my editor gazed at me later with somewhat terrifying intensity and said, “It is the best gelt I have ever eaten in my life.” And I can say it is the prettiest. And I hate my coworkers.) Veruca uses ingredients from Guittard, an American company with a commitment to fair trade and sustainability practices and hand-crafts coins in grown-up flavors like dark chocolate with sea salt, or espresso and milk chocolate with cacao nibs. They’re probably too good for your shrieking little dreidel-heads. They’re not cheap, but they’re cheaper (and way more ethically minded) than the most expensive gelt I found on the interwebs, that of the venerable French brand Debauve & Gallais, which was developed for Marie Antoinette, a person not noted for her stance on workers’ rights. It is not fair trade and it is $200 per box.
As for why we eat coin-shaped chocolate on Hanukkah at all, that’s debatable. Rabbis for Human Rights goes with Eliezer Segal’s explanation that students in Europe used to give coins to their teachers as a play on the Hebrew word chinukh (education) which is very similar to chanukah (dedication). Prinz told me about an old Christian tradition of putting coins in one’s shoes for Saint Nicholas (whom the Dutch call Sinterklaas), to celebrate his feast day on Dec. 6. In her book, she recalls visiting Belgium on Dec. 6 and being approached by young people holding out glass mugs and asking for coins. “Christmas is a miracle story for Christians; Hanukkah is miracle story for Jews,” Prinz said. Given that it’s also a story about liberation and self-determination, shouldn’t our gelt fit the narrative?
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