Grim's Grub: Taking the mallow out of the marsh

A dish that has pharaohs and preachers rolling in their graves

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Imagine being sentenced to 30 lashes, or prison, or possibly death just for eating a s'more.

If this was ancient Egypt that would apparently be a real possibility.

According to and, we lowly Minnesotans (with exception of those of you who might secretly be pharaohs or Ra or something) would have been forbidden from eating confections made from marshmallow roots in 2,000 B.C.

Wild flowering Althaea officinalis, or Marsh Mallow.


See, the Egyptians had discovered a tall (as tall as 4 feet) herb in the marshlands that produced a sweet, mucilaginous sap. For a time the sap was used as a remedy for sore throats, but eventually it became a cornerstone ingredient for treats.

Combined with honey, it made a confection very different, but very reminiscent of today's confections. Though very different from today's commercial varieties, these were the original marshmallows, and they were reserved for elite nobles, pharaohs and as offerings to the Egyptian pantheon. (I wonder if they were burnt offerings?)

The plant from which they produced these goodies would eventually go on to provide us with the modern name of this confection. The plant itself was a wild member of the mallow family that grew in the swamps or marshes, called Althaea officinalis. This plant would long be the necessary ingredient in producing traditional marshmallows.

Dried and sliced marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) in a wooden spoon.

Though Egypt gave us the original marshmallow (I can't find if it was just marshmallow fluff, or if they whipped them into puffs), the French gave it a form much closer to what we know today. In the mid-1800s, the French combined the sap's qualities with the fluffified capabilities of egg whites.

They whipped the two together with sugar, piped them into little mounds and air dried them into puffs that were very close to meringues. They eventually moved on to using molds, which would have likely been what we consider marshmallow shaped.

The popularity of the marshmallow surged after that and left sellers with a problem. Extracting the sap from marshmallow roots was labor intensive. To keep up with demand, other confectioners realized that an almost identical product could be made without the sap.


Instead, they substituted with gelatin in the late 1800s. This not only decreased the labor required to produce the sap, it also increased the shelf life of the marshmallows.

A marshmallow candy factory line with uncut marshmallow tubes.

What began in Egypt as honey, marsh mallow sap and possibly some nuts was now corn syrup, corn starch, sugar, gelatin and water. The final upgrade was a machine that would extrude them through a tube and cut them simultaneously.

The United States didn't take much of a liking to marshmallows until after this change. In the early 1900s, the confection finally took off stateside, which is good because it then enabled our world famous cookie pushers to make the ultimate discovery and make Pastor Sylvester Graham roll over in his grave ( he invented graham crackers to be boring ).

Back in 1927, a Girl Scout leader named Loretta Scott published recipes for Girl Scout camp foods, including one that she called Some Mores. She cautioned that while they taste like "some more," one is quite enough.

The name wasn't shortened until the 1970s, meaning when Ham in "The Sandlot" (based in 1962) was giving Smalls a hard time about s'mores, the writers actually got it wrong.


S'mores fixin's; thin bar chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows.

Original Some Mores

From "Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts"

  • 16 graham crackers
  • 8 bars plain chocolate broken in two (or dark chocolate, peanut butter cups, Rolos)
  • 16 marshmallows

Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp, gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich. The heat of the marshmallow between the halves of chocolate bar will melt the chocolate a bit. Though it tastes like "some more," one is really enough.
Note: It appears the recipe suggests using the whole chocolate bar and two marshmallows per s'more, so maybe one really was enough.

Oil a thin knife and dust with powdered sugar and then begin to slice the homemade marshmallows into cubes of an inch or smaller, re-oiling and dusting as needed.

Homemade Marshmallows

  • Vegetable oil or nonstick spray
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare a 9-inch baking pan by greasing it and then lightly sprinkle all surfaces with powdered sugar.
Put 1/2 cup water in a stand mixer or metal bowl and sprinkle the gelatin overtop. Stir briefly and then allow to soften while you work on the rest of the ingredients.


In a saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, syrup and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium heat while stirring. Insert a candy thermometer and continue to boil, uninterrupted, while watching carefully. If it foams up, turn the heat down slightly. Continue to watch until the thermometer registers 240 degrees Fahrenheit (the soft ball stage). Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand just until the bubbles dissipate slightly.

While mixing at a low speed, pour the hot syrup into the gelatin in a thin stream down the side of the bowl.

While mixing at a low speed, pour the hot syrup into the gelatin in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Gradually increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the marshmallow is thick and forms a thick ribbon when the whisk is lifted, after about five minutes. Next, beat in the vanilla.

Scrape the marshmallow into the prepared pan. Wet your fingertips and spread it evenly and smooth on top. Allow to stand at room temperature until the surface isn't sticky and the marshmallow can be pulled from the sides. This will take at least four hours.

Dust a cutting board with powdered sugar and use a spatula to loosen the marshmallows from the pan sides and bottom, then turn out onto the cutting board. Oil a thin knife and dust with powdered sugar and then begin to slice the marshmallows into cubes of an inch or smaller, re-oiling and dusting as needed. These can be dropped into powdered sugar and tossed to coat to prevent sticking.

Homemade marshmallow crispy rice treat in bar form.


Cereal Bar Recipe

Adapted from the official Rice Krispies recipe

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 10-ounce package marshmallows
  • 6 cups rice cereal

This recipe may be made with many other dry cereals or treats. Try the following: crushed Oreos or other cookies, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cap'n Crunch, graham crackers or Teddy Grahams, Reece's Puffs cereal, Cocoa Puffs, s'more-flavored cereals. Or try a mix of these options or many other dry cereals and treats.
Before starting, grease a 13x9-inch cake pan and a spatula with butter.

Melt butter over low heat in a saucepan. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted, then remove from the heat. Add your cereal and stir until well coated. Using a buttered spatula, press the mixture into the cake pan and allow to cool before cutting into squares.

You may also use the microwave to melt the butter. Then microwave in a bowl by heating on high for three minutes.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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