23 October, 2015
Who Actually Invented Marshmallow Creme?
Today, Durkee-Mower’s “Fluff” dominates the market—but competition was stiff in the beginning.
Take 10 brown-paper bagged lunches from any New England grammar school cafeteria, dump out their contents, and you’re bound to find at least one fluffernutter. For the uninitiated, a fluffernutter is a simple sandwich made by slathering peanut butter and Durkee-Mower Inc.’s beloved Marshmallow Fluff between two slices of humble white bread. (The term fluffernutter was coined in 1960 by an ad man hired by Durkee-Mower to market the brand’s crown jewel to a larger audience.)
A photo posted by @flufffestival on Sep 25, 2015 at 1:25pm PDT
Though its use is most prominent in the fluffernutter, recipes for marshmallow creme—or some approximation of the stuff—have been around much longer than the sandwich. Writing in her seminal Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in 1896, Fannie Farmer calls for “marshmallow cream” in a recipe for Marshmallow Cake, but then (somewhat confoundingly) offers only a recipe for Marshmallow Paste. Six years later, Sarah Tyson Rorer published Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, in which she offers a recipe for Marshmallow Filling. However none of Mrs. Rorer’s cake recipes call for marshmallow filling, which makes the reader wonder why she developed the recipe to begin with.
Divorce yourselves of the notion that peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwiches were invented by Durkee-Mower, though. They’ve existed since at least WWI when a Melrose, Massachusetts woman named Emma E. Curtis—owner of Snowflake Marshmallow Creme, a mass market spreadable marshmallow product which predated Fluff—published a recipe in 1918 for what she called Liberty Sandwiches. Perhaps she named them as such because she was the great-great-great-granddaughter of noted forefather Paul Revere, or perhaps it was her way of displaying patriotism during the horrific conflict that would bridge the gap between ancient and modern warfare.
Four years after publishing their recipe for Liberty Sandwiches, Emma and her brother Amory introduced a new product called SMAC Marshmallow (similar in texture to the now omnipresent Marshmallow Fluff of Durkee-Mower). SMAC and peanut butter sandwiches soon followed. Though Emma would pass away in 1948, Amory continued running the business until it was destroyed by arsonists in 1962.
The Curtises weren’t the only Bay Staters in the marshmallow creme game. Also at the beginning of the 20th century, a man named Archibald Query—an immigrant confectioner and inventor from Montreal who came to the US for work, as so many of his Quebecois compatriots had before him—began making a version of marshmallow creme in his Somerville, Massachusetts kitchen and distributing it door to door. Hamstrung by a wartime sugar shortage, Query decided to sell his recipe in 1917. To H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower. For $500.
A photo posted by @flufffestival on Sep 13, 2015 at 5:49pm PDT
Durkee-Mower is now worth significantly more than $500—estimates put their yearly revenue somewhere between $5 and 10 million. And while they began producing Marshmallow Fluff at approximately the same time Snowflake began producing SMAC—and for all intents and purposes at the same time Farmer and Rorer made mention of their own marshmallow creme variants—it’s the invention of the fluffernutter in 1960 that’s helped transform them from local sweet factory to regional (if not international) confection legends.
Despite Durkee-Mower’s ubiquity in New England pantries, the company is notoriously taciturn, rarely affording outsiders a look inside their Lynn, Massachusetts factory. A clandestine confectionery factory? Cue tired Willy Wonka Candy Company analogy.
A photo posted by lisantilli (@lisantilli) on Sep 26, 2015 at 5:50pm PDT
The fanaticism that surrounds the brand is so strong it’s borne a festival—the eponymous Fluff Fest, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in September—in Somerville’s Union Square (the neighborhood of the town in which it was—sort of—invented). Durkee-Mower isn’t involved with the festival—it’s put on by an independent group called Union Square Main Streets—and no one from the company has attended as of yet. Jon Durkee—H. Allen Durkee’s grandson and the current vice president of Durkee-Mower—doesn’t rule future attendance out, however.
“I’ll head over to the Fluff Festival someday,” he said in an email. “They do a really good job and people seem to have a good time. And if I do go, it will be incognito.”
Of course it will.
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