Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Marsh mallows. Marshmallows. Know the difference.

A recent post about s'mores got me thinking about marshmallows. Even though they pronounce it "marshmella" in my neck of the woods – the word "mallow" caught my eye some years ago as I was leafing through Durward L. Allen's North American Wildlife.

The upshot: these are marsh mallows . These are marshmallows.

What gives?

Turns out, the plant came before the confection. These days they make marshmallows cheap, using common gelatin, which is a byproduct of meat processing. (It's the reason vegetarians don't eat marshmallows.) But, back in the day, the roots of the marsh mallow were gathered and boiled with sugar to create the puffy candy pillows. It worked because marsh mallow roots are rich in mucilage, a gluey, natural thickener.

And if you're old enough, you'll conjur up this image when you hear the word "mucilage." Remember those weird rubber things from grade school?

Since a variety of health benefits have also been ascribed to marsh mallow, in the old days marshmallows were considered good for you – or at least good for your dyspepsia and catarrh.

Now they're just empty calories, but still – life just wouldn't be the same without them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

S'more s'mores, please

My Twitter friend Jen Singer mentioned s'mores. That inspired this post.

Most agree that s'mores rock, with the possible exception of those who have lost their sense of taste thanks to a massive nuclear accident. Chocolate, marshmallow, graham crackers ... what's not to love?

It's one of those quintessentially American folk recipes that just warms the cockles of your taste buds. Even if you don't like marshmallow, grahams and chocolate – there's something about a s'mores that comes together in divine synergy when the ingredients are combined.

But you probably already knew that.

For my overseas pals – and Americans who have been living under rocks – the s'mores recipe is the epitome of simplicity. Roast a marshmallow (on a stick, over a fire, accompanied by ghost stories or raucous singing.) Slap the browned, gooey confection on a half a graham cracker. Add a segment of a Hershey Bar. (Yes, Hershey Bar. This is not a paid endorsement. It's just that a Hershey Bar segment is the perfect size and portion for this purpose.) Put the other half of the graham cracker on top and squish it down. Give the chocolate a minute to melt, then engage with extreme prejudice.

Your fingers and camp-dirty sweatshirt will end up all sticky from s'mores residue, then black from campfire ash. Leave them alone. You're camping, for Pete's sake. There will be plenty of time for soap and water when you get back to civilization.

An aside - you can make s'mores at home by sticking a half graham cracker topped with a marshmallow in the microwave. While it's fun to watch the marshmallow swell to 15 times its original size – the experience doesn't quite cut it. S'mores should be enjoyed while breathing campfire smoke and swatting mosquitoes. Plus they lose the caramelized and smoky complexity that you can only get from roasting the sugar over an open fire.

But what to call these delectable little bundles of carbohydrate excess?

In some circles, they get the moniker "Angels on Horseback." Not bad. The white marshmallow, the saddle-hued chocolate, the horse-tan graham crackers. But too many syllables for my taste. You can get them quicker if you ask for s'mores. And the name is a simple expression of their wonderfulness. They're so good, you always want s'more. Some plus more equals s'more.

Get it?

This is not difficult. But apparently it's quite a herculean feat if you're from Pennsylvania.

Living at the southern New Jersey seashore, most of our friends and neighbors are Keystone State transplants. In fact I've often wondered why Philadelphia hasn't annexed Ocean City as its easternmost suburb – since it might as well be between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Through some trick of DNA controlling the muscles of the tongue, if you're from Pennsylvania, you'll in all likelihood say schmores when you mean s'mores. As if they're a local variety of salted meat, smoked by Mennonites. Schmore's Old Fashioned Honey Hickory Bacon Slabs.

The funnier thing is that when – at great risk to your personal safety – you point out the folly of this linguistic butchery, they get all in your face and insist that their version is correct. Really? So, you're telling me that, when asking for more Corn Flakes or mashed potatoes or chocolate milk, Pennsylvania kids say "Mom. May I have schmore?!"

No, of course not, they'll reply. Followed by what's your point? Intelligent, educated Pennsylvanians, these are!

I give up. I still want to be your friend, despite your wanton disregard of the rule of law. Let's crack open a few Yuenglings. And pass me schmore Angels on Horseback, please.