The sugary lure of Kfar Tabor

The Marzipan Museum: Nostalgia never looked so sweet.

marzipan museum 88.298 (photo credit: )
marzipan museum 88.298
(photo credit: )
The brainchild of British immigrant Gillian Peled, the Marzipan Museum at Kfar Tavor is paradise for those with a sweet tooth and a penchant for almonds. The Marzipan Museum is not only an artistic culinary delight to visit but also a sweet educational project enjoyed by children, soldiers and pensioners alike. In the case of Gillian Peled, the apple apparently hasn't fallen far from the family tree. A grandmother who arrived in Britain from Russia many years ago bore the family name Mendel - meaning "almond" in German. Peled, who made aliya in l974, began making marzipan cake decorations at home, in between caring for her then-young children. As demand for her products began to grow, she turned her hobby into more than just a livelihood. Following a few years getting the business off the ground in a facility in the industrial area of Afula, she was approached by the mayor of Kfar Tavor with an offer she could hardly refuse. The Tabor area is abundant with almond and olive orchards, grape vineyards and apiaries - not to mention some excellent eateries that attract both out-and-about Israelis and overseas tourists. The village already had a popular museum depicting the lives of the first Zionist settlers in the area. The mayor envisioned an extended working museum, together with a number of veteran locals who produce olive oil, honey and wines, incorporating all their tasteful products. "In the beginning we had just two small rooms in the existing settlers'' museum, but demand for our workshops became so great that after a few years we were offered larger premises together with the winery-cum-olive center," explains Peled, who runs the aromatic museum with her husband, Moshe, and their sons. The founders of Kfar Tavor began draining swamps and turning soil in l901. The new marzipan, winery and olive complex was inaugurated by President Katsav in 2001, during the Jezreel Valley community's l00th anniversary celebrations. "In our museum, children learn the whole process from the picking of the almonds to making marzipan. Our busiest time is around the Tu Be'shvat and Rosh Hashana holidays, when groups of schoolchildren come not just to learn but to make their own decorative creations as well," says Peled. Overseas visitors would probably do a double take seeing a group of trainee pilots from a nearby Air Force base licking their sticky fingers while making marzipan figurines and flowers, or muscular uniformed soldiers putting their guns aside to do likewise. "There's great diversity in the type of groups and families that participate in our workshops. We also run workshops for the mentally and physically impaired, and the blind. Working with the marzipan is very therapeutic" says Peled, a former Londoner. A rather unusual exhibition of marzipan sculptures is on permanent display in the museum. Apart from well-known characters from books and films, there are a large number of sweet busts of leading Middle East personalities, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other politicians. Among the rich and famous on the shelves once sat Yasser Arafat, although the former Palestinian president's shelf date has expired. A life-size marzipan model of the guitar-playing Elvis Presley stands in a corner, eyeing up Yehoram Gaon as he was when playing the lead role in the 1974 Israeli musical Kazablan, while rather small models of Harry Potter and friends are in a glass case between the two icons. No doubt with a little, wizardry Harry and Co. could reach the sugar-coated heights of Presley and Gaon and break through the glass ceiling without leaving so much as a crack! One way of working off any excess tasting of the goodies in the Marzipan Museum would be to take a walk up Mount Tabor, which looms over the attractive village at the foot of the round-topped hill. A veritable mini-Masada, the zig-zag climb to the plateau offers a breathtaking view of the Jezreel Valley, which looks like a patchwork quilt with shades of brown, yellow and green fields marked off far below. Of course, it is also possible to drive up to the Franciscan basilica and monastery built on the plateau.