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The Marshmallow & Jelly Wars
The untold buttery war
19 May 2020 . 5min read

I started writing these for several reasons. Mostly health related, but also to see if I actually could. I'll leave you to be a judge of my output, but I appear to have been able to continue; even if it is the only thing I'm able to achieve in a given week.

Anyway, this morning I was considering what it has been like to have such a forced creative task each week. I recognise it is significantly less than most of you probably have to deal with, but I'm still going to talk about it.

Some weeks, it flows like a creatively oiled machine.

Some weeks, it could best be described as collecting jelly, using marshmallow hands, and having caught the jelly, then needing to balance it on a hot plate, whilst sculpting it using a butter covered spoon.

Which got me thinking about the oft under-documented, Jelly & Marshmallow Wars.

I'm sure you've heard of it. Although in recent years, and might I say for politically motivated reasons, the topic seems to have been dropped from the education syllabus.

Like most things, it all started in 2000 BC; around 4000 years ago. A young apprentice food scientist, although to be historically accurate, we should refer to him as a cook, was taking an afternoon break. Again, if we are going to be pedantically historically accurate, he had been working since 2am and the break was more enforced rather than suggested. He was taking a walk along his usual route, although the records do show that he was actually a she, and that she was of slightly higher rank than a mere cook. Anyway, Chef Lisa, sorry I've made up her name; it's not recorded. She was taking a stroll.

It was a stroll along her favourite route. Her stroll started in North Africa, and stayed in North Africa, because it was just a stroll. As was usual, Lisa loved taking a route down into the lower, more shaded area of the town. It's not known which town it actually was, but it was known that it had a more shaded area. Pausing to ponder her chosen career choices, Lisa noticed a small green plant with a delicate white flower. It was, of course, Althaea officinalis, a common plant in the marshy areas. Her motivation is unknown, perhaps in wonder, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps out of rage at the long hours she was being forced to work. She gently plucked, pulled, ripped, the historical records are unclear which, the plant from the ground. In doing so, part of the stem snapped off in her hand. Thinking nothing of it, she looked at the sweet white five-petalled flower, and then discarded the plant.

It was later that afternoon, whilst butchering a small animal, that she noticed her left hand was sticky. Specifically, the area between her thumb and index finger. Remembering that she had forgotten to wash her hands before starting on the butchery, and the plant incident, she made a mental note.

The next day, that mental note was recalled, and she revisited the same location. Thankfully for us, more of the plants were present. Breaking the stem open, she discovered the white fleshy and slightly sticky core. Remembering what a dog's breakfast the butchery turned out to be, she decided she could use this white sticky substance for something. She needed a name for it, something that would give it some presence and earn her some much needed kudos. Her name was Lisa Mestowa, and so the name was set.

Having collected several plants, she returned to the kitchen area to present her findings to the head chef. The Mestowa plant, and more specially the recipe for boiling it with honey and straining it, was presented. The head chef, who's name is sadly, or luckily for them, lost in time, took a moment. Surprised at Lisa's calm persona, she was quizzed further. She expressed her genuine feeling of being relaxed and mellow, and disclosed that she had found the plant over the ridge, in the shaded area, next to the marsh.

And so after meeting with others, and in a deliberate move to take all the credit, the head chef declared the new discovery and food, be called the marsh-mellow.

In 1592, Prospero Alpini documented these historical events. He was known for his terrible handwriting, and so the marshmallow was created.

It took until the late 1800s, when some France confectioners used the plant to create a candy called Pate de Guimauve. Taking two days to make, it was a distinct delicacy.

The humble plant remained in use until some bright spark in 1956 realised that you could make the same kind of thing from sugar and starch. So, the mass-produced candy that we know today was created.

To this day, Lisa is still not credited as the originator.

So, what about Jelly?

That was created in 1740 by a guy called Bob, who had some calf's feet and wondered if he could sell them. No one wanted calf's feet, so he boiled them and noticed a gelatinous substance left over. He discarded the bones and sold the substance as calf's foot jelly. In 1747, Hannah Glasse sensibly dropped the calf reference. And in her ground-breaking book, The Art of Cookery, on page 285, created the trifle with a layer of jelly.

I have to confess that there was no war at all, but I needed to hook you in. If for no reason than to highlight the dis-service dished out to Lisa.

In reality, it really just boils down to the fact that Marshmallow and Jelly are wobbly, and both are equally difficult to sculpt with a buttery spoon.

For a long while, I was in charge of this. I still have no idea what any of those knobs do.


Profile photo of Nigel Derbyshire

I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire