A few days ago, while listening to NPR, I caught an interview with Mimi Graney, author of Fluff: the Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon. It turns out that this year is the 100th anniversary of the invention of Marshmallow Fluff, and she wrote the history in response. Graney is also the instigator of the What the Fluff? festival that occurs on the last Saturday of September each year in Union Sq., Somerville, MA.
I was so intrigued by her interview that I immediately Amazoned the book (apologies to Porter Sq. Books – I wanted to buy it locally, but I’ve been sick). Last night I finished it, and it exceeded my expectations.
I had no idea that the Boston area had once been the confectionary center of North America, despite years of walking past a NECCO factory every morning on my way to classes at MIT Alas, that factory has been complete gutted and retrofitted as a biochem laboratory. No more will starving students be sustained by the wafting aroma of chocolate and mint.
Graney does an amazing job of placing Fluff in historical context, from the confectionary boom of the late 19th century to the important role of candy in WWI to the emergence of radio as an advertising medium to the growing importance of women’s interests as represented by Fannie Farmer and Margaret Mills.
As such, she demonstrates the iconic value of Fluff within American culture, particularly in the Northeastern U.S. Fluff has flown on the Space Shuttle, an ideal sticky treat for astronauts, and been the center of school nutrition controversy in Massachusetts schools. Ironically, the controversy vastly boosted sales of Fluff.
My birthday happens to be at the end of September, and I’m now determined to celebrate it at the What the Fluff? festival. In the meantime, I think Rice Crispies Treats and Never Fail Fudge are in my immediate future.
And lurking in the back of my mind, a novel idea that never quite worked has collided with Marshmallow Fluff and exploded into a crazy steampunk alternate Boston story centered on the Institute of Culinary Magic in – where else? – Kendall Square. I think I’ll call it The Marshmallow War.
Which I’ll write after the three novels I’m currently working on. Sigh