Thursday, October 02, 2008

More on Marshmallows.

The tomato marshmallow recipe from a few weeks ago caused some interest, and in one other story I gave you a recipe for Mississippi Mud that contained marshmallows, but there is still a lot of fun to be had with them.
The marshmallow, before it was a puffy sweet was (is) a plant. It is known as Althaea officinalis, and it grows over wide areas of the world. As its name suggests, it grows in marshy areas. The ‘mallow’ part of the name comes from the Latin name for the plant – Malva. Which of course begs the question – what does Malva mean? The whole point of the plant seems to be the mucilaginous root, so presumably there is some meaning there. Any input from botanists or Latin experts would be gratefully received.
The mucilaginous quality of course is what made the plant valuable medicinally. Once upon a time, it was believed that the qualities of anything in the known world could be transferred to the eater/patient/victim, if the material was ingested. Coral red stones, ground up and added to medicine transmitted their red, bloody power, and mucilaginous mallow soothed and coated dry or inflamed parts of the body for example. Decoctions of mallow were therefore useful for all sorts of urinary and bowel problems, and irritable coughs.  
Marshmallows today of course don’t contain any Marsh Mallow. Such is progress. I am not sure how the mucilaginous quality got translated to a spongy, jellied, powdery and decidedly dry sweetie, but life is full of mysteries, and all the better for it too. I guess when they are melted, the texture is approximated; but someone made them first, before they toasted them, surely?  
This is how they used to be made, with the real plant.
Famous Tablettes de Guimauve,or French Lozenges of Marshmallows, being their grand Remedy for all sorts of Coughs.
These lozenges are of two sorts, the simple and the compound. For the first, cleanse and scrape roots if marshmallows, freshly taken out of the ground, and boiling them in pure water till they become quite soft, take them out, beat them in a marble mortar to the consistency of a fine smooth paste, and place it on the top of an inverted sieve to obtain all the pulp which can be forced through the sieve with the assistance of a wooden spoon, then boil a pound and a half of loaf sugar in six or seven ounces of rosewater, to a good solid consistence, and whisk it up, off the fire, with a quarter of a pound of the marshmallow pulp; after which place it over a gentle heat, to dry up the humidity, stirring it all the time, and when a good paste is formed, empty it on paper brushed over with oil of sweet almonds, roll it out with a straight rolling-pin, and cut it into lozenges with a tin lozenge cutter.
The Universal Receipt Book, Patricia Homespun, 1818.

1 comment:

srhcb said...

If you need a lozenge cutter: