This is another of those weird and wonderful things that find their way into my odds and sods bed. I spotted the seeds in a catalogue last winter. It seems like such a long time ago now, but I remember double backing on my page turning and thinking “hmmm…. I wonder…..” This often means something crazy is about to happen. Once I got to the checkout of the seed supplier I was one seed packet short to make the delivery worth its while and so I found myself typing in the code for the marshmallow seeds.
Spring came and went and the seeds were sown and duly planted in their place in my creative bed alongside the peanuts and popcorn. I had the makings for a great movie night growing there in my odds and sods bed. As I passed the plants during the season and saw the bees loving the flowers I thought maybe I should have planted it in my flower bed as they were such pretty things.
The seasons passed and spring became a distant memory, and summer faded into autumn and the flowers faded away. It was now or never. It was marshmallow time. Knowing it could be done, because it said so on the description in the catalogue, but having no idea how, I did my research and looked up books and scoured the great big internet.
I found out many interesting things. People have been eating marshmallow root for centuries, even the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese. Apparently boiled then fried with onion and butter it can be quite ‘palatable’. I’m not so keen on palatable and would rather eat things declared ‘delicious’. It is even in the Bible in Job 30:4.
The great Pliny is supposed to have said “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.” This may be down to the fact it does have medicinal properties and is supposed to work wonders for a sore throat and a bad cough, among other things. The sweet treat we enjoy today often charred lightly and sandwiched between a couple of chocolate biscuits has its origins as a medicinal lozenge.
For now, I’m in the greatest of health and so am purely interested in recreating the soft, fluffy delicacy that is a homemade marshmallow, made the old fashioned way. Well close to it. There were so many variations out there I decided to wing it!
The first step was to dig up the plant and harvest the roots. They were so intertwined; it took every effort to remove all trace of dirt. Once it was clean I proceeded to chop it all up into little pieces, put it into a pot and covered it with water. The mucilaginous properties that I was seeking was quick to make itself felt and there was a gooey slimy mess all over my chopping board and was oozing into the water in the pot.
I slowly brought the contents of the pot to the boil and reduced the heat to a simmer for 20 minutes. I found getting out my potato masher and giving it a good bash really helped bring out a really gooey effect.
The roots had now served their purpose and I strained them from the sticky liquid and sent them to the compost pile. The liquid was measured out and I had managed to create a cup of mallow juice. I also created a sticky mess with whatever it touched. Not wanting to waste it all in a possible failed attempt, I halved the mixture and set one half aside, should I need to try again, and put the other half a cup back into the pot with a cup of sugar and rapidly boiled it until the sugar had dissolved. Then I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence.
The electric beater was put into action trying to whip it all into a “white” or at best light coloured fluffy texture. It was so sticky and gelatinous and kept clinging to the beaters and winding its way up in an attempt to engulf the entire mixer. It didn’t seem like it was going to do the right thing anytime soon. I remembered reading that some of the recipes included beaten egg whites so in desperation I cracked open an egg, separated out the white and in a clean bowl whipped it into stiff peaks.
I added the egg whites to my sticky disaster and beat some more. Slowly but surely the colour lighten from a murky brown to a pale creamy white and it seemed more like a meringue mix than the out workings of a grumpy old giant with a heavy cold. For the first time, things seemed promising.
Not wanting to lose anything by mucking about too much longer, I poured the mix into a shallow dish that had been lined with baking paper and sprinkled with cornflour. I popped it in fridge and hoped for the best.
Waste not want not and all of that, I repeated the whole process with the other half, but this time I added a couple of strawberries to the mix as I whisked it and it took on a lovely pink colour as they were mashed into the sticky mess.
So there I was waiting patiently for my marshmallows to set. I waited for quite some time – a full day and a bit. I was very patient, and it wasn’t turning into a light fluffy delight I could pick up and pop in my mouth without dripping a gooey sticky mess everywhere. So I decided to freeze it. After 24 hours in the freezer I discovered it didn’t freeze well and remained quite gooey.
Come again soon – I have another fabulous recipe to showcase the wonderful autumnal produce.
Sarah the Gardener : o)