In the winter, a cup of hot chocolate just isn’t complete without a rapidly melting marshmallow floating on the surface. And in the spring, those delightful yellow Peeps are as iconic as the Easter Bunny himself. Now that summer is well and truly underway, I am witnessing a scene not unlike something from Lord of the Flies, as a dozen kids circle a blazing bonfire and roast sweet, sticky marshmallows to golden tones, or get a little too close and watch the sugary treat burst dramatically into flames (and then, after it cools, eat it anyway).
In the time of the Ancient Egyptians, a confection of sap from the marshmallow plant (which is in the same plant family as okra, cotton and hibiscus, and has similar-looking blooms) blended with honey was a delicacy served to the Pharaohs. In 19th century France, a descendant of the modern marshmallow was used as a medicinal treat, calming a persistent cough or settling an upset stomach. The sweet panacea caught on with confectioners and soon lost its medicinal associations to become a favorite treat throughout Europe.
Today, marshmallows are made using gelatin instead of the confection’s namesake plant, but they have otherwise remained unchanged since they enthralled candy lovers in the 1800s. They can now be found in a variety of colors, flavors and shapes, but the simple white puff of goo remains a favorite year ’round.
Marshmallows may seem like one of those treats only found in the candy aisle of your local grocery store, but homemade ‘mallows are fun to make and taste so good you’ll understand why the Pharaohs were so stingy with them.