Marshmallow Pioneers (Marshmallow Chronicles, Part III)
If you ever find yourself in Rochester, New York, be sure to pause and eat a marshmallow in honor of Joseph B. Demerath.
According to local Rochester lore, Demerath was the first confectioner in America to dedicate himself to churning out marshmallows on a commercial scale. He began his ambitious marshmallow enterprise in 1895, and his factory became known as the Rochester Marshmallow Works. Demerath’s marshmallow distribution network meant that suddenly marshmallows could be acquired in all sorts of candy-selling outlets. Other large commercial marshmallow makers soon followed, and by 1900 marshmallows were available everywhere. They were a huge candy hit.
Marshmallows similar to the ones we eat today were sold as candy simple. The typical shape was a sort of puffy domed square with a flat bottom. But because marshmallows were made in starch molds, they could just as easily be made in all sorts of shapes and variations. Marshmallow babies, fish, sandwiches, cones, fruit, rabbits, and the famous marshmallow bananas were all mentioned in a 1911 Analysis of Cheap Confectionery carried out by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Marshmallows were dipped in chocolate, in coconut, or combined with crackers or sweet biscuits to make still more kinds of marshmallow confection.
What was in these first generation commercial-grade marshmallows? Charles Huling was the author of a popular manual for candy making at the turn of the century. In the 1902 edition of his American Candy Maker, he lists several grades of marshmallows that differ in quality and price. Marshmallow on a commercial scale was made possible by the invention of the “steam marshmallow machine,” a device that combined beating and heating actions. Insofar as this was a machine dedicated to only one kind of confection, it is not surprising that marshmallow remained something of a specialty item. Not every candy manufacturer chose to dedicate the money or space for such specialized marshmallow machinery.
Huling included two recipes for “commercial marshmallow” that make huge batches of candy using machine processes. These marshmallows are made with sugar, glucose, gelatine, starch, and egg albumin (dried egg whites). Recipes for more refined and expensive marshmallows are also included. These recipes use gum Arabic instead of gelatine and starch, and fresh egg whites. Finally, there are recipes for fancy flavored marshmallows: apricot, greengage, raspberry.
Marshmallow today seems a pale shadow of these exuberant and imaginative marshmallow concoctions of yester-year. But perhaps marshmallow is coming around again. I hear murmurs of artisanal candy makers experimenting with lavender, rosemary, licorice flavors. Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows of Sherman Oaks, CA offers cinnamon flavor, caramel, vanilla bean, and lemon meringue flavors. And American dessert expert Steve Schmidt reports that he has even ventured into the terrain of “vegetable candy” with a contemporary version of Mary Elizabeth Hall’s tomato marshmallows.
No word yet on bacon marshmallows. But everybody’s raving about bacon chocolate and bacon brittle. In this year of the meat sweet, surely fluffy, salty, smoky bacon mallows are just a matter of time. Layer with pancakes, pour on the maple syrup, and ponder the mysteries of the conferctionery universe.
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