Marshmallow Fluff and the Fluffernutter!
One of the most classic sandwich treats of years past is the Fluffernutter. Traditionally, it’s a sandwich made with white bread, peanut butter, and Marshmallow Fluff (a brand of marshmallow creme). But who invented this tasty snack? And, more so, what was the inspiration for the component of gooey, sticky, sugary creme?
It all started in 1917, when a Somerville, MA man named Archibald Query produced marshmallow creme in his kitchen and sold it door-to-door. Though that wasn’t the first mention of the creme – it appears in Fannie Farmer’s Boston School Cook Book (1896), although no recipe was actually given (a marshmallow paste recipe appears under cake fillings). In 1902, Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book provides a recipe for something called marshmallow filling, but until Query’s business, no one had mass-produced or marketed such a product.
With his business faltering due to sugar shortages due to World War I, Query sold the rights to his recipe to candymakers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower. The cost? $500.
Durkee and Mower named the product Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff, and set out to also sell the product door-to-door at a price of $1 per gallon. One of their first sales was in April 1920 to a New Hampshire vacation lodge, which bought three gallons of Fluff.
It was local housewives’ at-home purchases that prompted grocers to sell Marshmallow Fluff. By 1927 the team was advertising prominently in Boston newspapers.
In 1929, Durkee-Mower moved to a large factory (on Brookline Street in East Lyn, MA) and hired more employees to handle the demand. They soon merged with the Cream of Chocolate Company, which made Rich’s Instant Sweet Milk Cocoa (Sweeco).
The ’30s brought us the Flufferettes radio show on the Yankee radio network, which broadcast to all of New England. The show was 15 minutes long and aired on Sunday evenings right before Jack Benny. The radio show featured live music and comedy skits. Most notably, though, it featured one of the most memorable moments of “genius” advertising efforts.
A character named Lowell Cabot Boswell – a scholar – would often disappear to continue work on a mysterious book. It was assumed the book was of some great importance, but on the last episode the “Book of the Moment” was revealed as a collection of recipes using Marshmallow Fluff as an ingredient. It was called the Yummy Book, which could be obtained by sending a request as per instructions on the back of the Fluff label.
Having experienced great success, Durkee-Mower had a setback during WWII as supply shortages affected their ability to produce Fluff. Instead of altering the recipe, the company opted to allot sales to distributors on a percentage basis based on pre-war purchases.
Like many American factories, Durkee-Mower converted part of its space to wrap war critical electronic and optical parts in waterproof packages.
After the war, the company redesigned packaging after surveying New England housewives. This resulted in a glass jar that was short enough to fit into the refrigerator (people often reused glass jars for leftovers) and have a wide enough mouth to easily fit a tablespoon. The jar had a stippled surface both above and below the label to add strength and make for an easier grip.
When the new Fluff factory opened in 1950, it was one of the most modern food manufacturing plants in America. It was built for efficiency, with a great deal of machinery specially designed. The speed of production was great increased from 80 jors to 125 jars per minute.
In 1956, Durkee-Mower collaborated with Nestle in a nationwide campaign – a recipe for fudge in many women’s magazines. Quick and easy to make, the fudge made with Fluff is even today one of the most-oft used recipes.
Although Fluff itself hasn’t changed since the ’60s (the glass jar design is still used today), Durkee-Mower’s has introduced a few things. In 1969 the company pioneered the use of plastic food containers when offering Fluff in a one-pound size. Keeping housewives in mind, the container can survive freezing and boiling temperatures, making it ideal for storing leftovers.
In the ’60s the company also marketed new uses for Fluff, including co-promoting a new Marshmallow-Treat recipe with Kellogg’s Rice Krispies.
And now, the Fluffernutter!
Who can resist it? Yummy peanut butter and sweet Fluff on (traditionally) white bread. Word has it this sandwich was created by Emma Curtis, who produced Snowflake Marshmallow Creme starting in 1913. Curtis created many recipes and provided leaflets to her customers, and some suggested using her creme and peanut butter to create a lunch for children.
The tasty treat wasn’t dubbed the Fluffernutter until 1960 when Durkee-Mower hired an advertising firm to help market the sandwich. Thus, Fluffernutter is a registered trademark of Durkee-Mower, though the registrations only cover ice cream and printed recipes.
While many of us remember this tasty treat from our childhoods, others celebrate it every year. The What the Fluff? Festival is held in Somerville, MA each year. The festival features a cooking contest, lots of Fluff-food and Fluff merchandise.
Today, Durkee-Mower’s is one of only three companies in the US that produce a form of marshmallow creme (though Fluff is whipped differently). Direct competitors are Kraft’s Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme and Solo Marshmallow Creme. Despite ups and downs, Durkee-Mower’s remains a smaller company and continues to use the same recipe it bought years ago.
The company doesn’t issue coupons; it prefers instead to keep the price as low as possible. It also doesn’t produce or sell directly Fluff merchandise like hats or shirts.
The next time you treat yourself to a Fluffernutter, think about the rich, retro history of Marshmallow Fluff. Then grab a copy of the Yummy Book and get cooking!
If you have your own Fluff recipe, please share! We could all use a sweet, fluffy treat.