This story was first appeared January 17. It’s being republished in honor of National Fluffernutter Day, October 8.
“It stuck to the roof of my mouth,” said Luca Duclos-Orsello.
He’s talking about when he was 11 years old and his mother, Elizabeth, smushed creamy Marshmallow Fluff and gooey peanut butter into his mouth, and he licked her fingers clean. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t talk, and the goo was so thick he could hardly breathe.
Mother and son had just won the Fluffernutter sandwich-making contest in 2013 at the annual Fluff festival in Somerville, Massachusetts. That suburb of Boston is where candymaker Archibald Query invented Marshmallow Fluff in 1917 and where Fluffernutters, a New England tradition, were born.
The sandwich race required Luca’s mom to wear a blindfold and to run her hands under his arms from behind. While he gave instructions — “Fluff on the right, peanut butter on the left” — they first had to make a Fluffernutter, and Luca then had to take one big bite. When he swallowed it and could speak, the two of them had to sing the Fluffernutter song.
“Oh, you need fluff, fluff, fluff, to make a Flutternutter,” they sang, gasping for air and covered with sticky fluff.
“Mom was so cool,” Luca remembers, explaining that instead of using the little plastic knives that the competitors had been given to spread the Fluff and peanut butter, “Mom just used her fingers. . . . And made a mess, fast.”
That’s the messy magic of Query’s invention: It’s easy to use and eat. Before his invention, marshmallow creams, or fluffs, were made in small batches by hand, with sugar and egg whites whipped into a foam or gooey paste. Harder forms of marshmallow, used for s’mores and roasting, are made with gelatins and pectin — which are also used to make jellies and jams — so they keep their shape.
The Somerville festival salutes Query because he figured out how to rig electric mixers, cookers and coolers to whip up big clouds of sugary white fluff, used today in fudge, icings, pies, pastry fillings, candies and other sweets.
You might be surprised to learn that marshmallows date at least to ancient Egyptians and Romans. In ancient days, people dug marsh mallows — bushes that grow near swamps and rivers, including the Potomac — out of the ground as an edible vegetable, and they boiled the roots into a syrup. Egyptians mixed marshmallow syrup with honey to make sweets, while Romans sipped it raw as a cure for bad breath and dandruff. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has bottles of Marshmallow Health Pearls: hard little marshmallow nuggets sold as cures for headaches and liver problems in the 1890s.
While marshmallows are still eaten throughout the Mediterranean area, marshmallow products in America no longer use actual syrup from marsh mallows.
Marshmallow Fluff has not changed much over the years. Query sold the recipe around 1920 to candymakers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower. They spread the word about fluff and ways to use it, including a sandwich they called the Fluffernutter. The Durkee-Mower company still makes fluff in nearby Lynn, Massachusetts.
But Somerville claims the sticky treat as its own.
“We’re going to have a big party to celebrate 100 years of fluff,” said Mimi Graney, a local historian and author of “Fluff: The Sticky-Sweet Story of an American Icon,” to be published in February.
She said this year’s centennial party includes a science fair, a fluff art exhibit, a cooking contest, fluff bowling, fluff eating contests and pin the tail on the fluff.
There’s a fluff sandwich-making contest, too, “But Mom and I aren’t doing it this year,” said Luca, who’s now 14. “I’m getting too old for that.”