Let's Talk Food: Marshmallows steeped in sweet, rich history

During the holiday season there were so many events that promised fun and frolic. The celebration of Christmas was especially important in the little town of Bethlehem in Jerusalem. Thousands gathered to mark the occasion while right here in the good old U. S. of A, another little town of Bethlehem planned its own unique event.

On Dec. 30 and 31 the city fathers (and mothers) in Bethlehem, Pa., pulled out all the stops in celebrating of the Peeps Fest. In case you’ve been in darkest Africa or Antarctica, Peeps are those adorable marshmallow candies, created in the shaped of, yes, baby chickens, also know as Peeps. If you missed the Peeps Fest in Bethlehem, don’t despair. Next Labor Day join the folks in Ligonier, Ind., for their annual Marshmallow Festival.

Ligonier residents have had a Labor Day celebration and festival since 1956. In 1992 some genius among the populace suggested it be re-named the Marshmallow Festival. It could be that Kidd & Company in Ligonier and Kraft in a nearby town produce more than half of the marshmallows in the United States. This makes Noble County, Ind., the Marshmallow Capital of the World.

Few would dispute the designation since the town fathers and mothers have done much to retain the privilege. In 1993, the World’s Largest Marshmallow was created. It weighed 671 pounds and was made in a huge drum that was especially manufactured for the event. The following year the Largest Bag of Marshmallows was created with marshmallows the size of basketballs for mavens of the sticky confection.

And yes, there is a marshmallow cook-off, and I can think of nothing more appetizing than caramel cream served over marshmallows and apples, never-fail fudge, those Rice Krispies and-marshmallow bars, s’mores and Girl Scout cookies made with you-know-what. Of course, there will be a giant marshmallow roast followed by fireworks. Lest you want more nourishing fare, on Labor Day there is a pancake-and-sausage breakfast and a chicken barbecue put on by the local Rotary Club.

I want to go just to see the golf tournament played, not with golf balls but special marshmallows made for the occasion. There is a plethora of activities during the long week-end including a kiddie parade, a grand parade featuring a jet-puffed marshmallow mascot, mud volley ball, a car show, a garden-tractor pull and several concerts. Little wonder 15,000 enthusiasts attend the celebration.

I must say, upon pursuing the history of marshmallows I was fascinated by its long and interesting past. This common, ordinary candy goes back centuries and was the precursor of more elaborate sweets. They were one of the earliest candies or sweets invented by man. Egyptian records dating to 2000 B.C. depict a confection of honey flavored with an extract of the mallow root, which was common to Egyptian marshes. That was probably the earliest marshmallow candy.

The modern marshmallow was created in France in the mid-19th century. The sap of the marshmallow shrub was bound by egg whites, corn syrup and water and whipped and molded into a light, fluffy confection. If you live near brackish marshes, you’ve seen marshmallow shrubs. They have pink hibiscus-like flowers. Modern marshmallows are made of sugar, corn syrup, starch and egg whites or gelatin. When roasting marshmallows, spray a little vegetable spray on the stick or fork and a bit on the marshmallow and it will be easy to remove, and the marshmallow will remain intact.

Several years ago, Wendy Hillkirk Mastandrea sent me her mother’s recipe for homemade marshmallows. If your children or grandchildren want a special day in the kitchen, organize a marshmallow-making project and when finished, treat them to a marshmallow roast.

Louise Hillkirk’s homemade marshmallows

Ingredients

¼ cup corn starch

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup water

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

2/3 cup sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

* Combine corn starch and confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of this mixture into a greased 8-by-8 inch pan, coating the bottom and sides.

* Pour water into a small pan and sprinkle the gelatin into the water and allow to stand five minutes. Add granulated sugar and beat until dissolved, stirring constantly.

* Pour into a large mixing bowl; add corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Beat for 15 minutes on high speed until stiff peaks form.

* Spread into prepared pan and smooth top. Allow to set at room temperature for two hours. With a wet knife cut into quarters, loosen around edges and remove from pan. Cut each quarter into desired number of pieces and roll in reserved corn starch mixture.

* Place marshmallows on a cake rack and cover with paper towels and all to dry for at least 10 hours.

* Store in airtight container. To make nut mallow, dip marshmallows in melted chocolate and top each coated piece with a pecan or walnut half and set on wax paper until set.

Chocolate marshmallow bar cookies

Ingredients

1/3 cup butter or margarine

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

¾ cup flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup chopped nuts

1½ cups marshmallows

1½ cups chocolate chips

1¼ cups peanut butter

1¾ cups Rice Krispies

Preparation

* Combine butter, sugar and eggs and mix well. Add flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, vanilla and nuts. Combine well and spread in a greased 9-by-13-inch pan.

* Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

* While the cake is baking melt together the chocolate chips, peanut butter and Rice Krispies. Remove pan from oven and cover cake with marshmallows and allow to melt.

* Spread the mixture of melted chocolate chips, peanut butter and Rice Krispies over the top of the cooled cake.

ASK DORIS

Question:. I lived in Tampa for several years and enjoyed the food in Ybor City. I especially liked the soufflé potatoes and would like to fix them at home. — Sammy Ledforth / Bonita Springs

Answer: Legend has it that soufflé potatoes came about when the chef in the kitchen of Henri IV heard that a trainload of dignitaries was en route to the palace for lunch. He tossed some sliced potatoes into a kettle of hot fat.

When word came that the train was delayed, the chef quickly removed the partly-cook potatoes and drained them. When the guests finally arrived he gave the potatoes a second frying and voila…pommes soufflés.

So, to fix this dish, simply peel good, firm Idaho potatoes, slice into the size fries you want, fry until half done in a relatively low temperature vegetable oil.

Remove, drain well, set aside and bring the oil up to a very high temperature; put the potatoes back in the very hot oil and they will puff right up. Enjoy!

Doris Reynolds is the author of “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried” and “Let’s Talk Food.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” For comments and information regarding today’s column, contact Doris Reynolds at foodlvr25@aol.com

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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