As a kid I loved making Fluffernutter sandwiches almost as much as eating them. I’d carefully paint one slice of bread with peanut butter and then frost it with the fluff slowly and carefully until every inch of bread was covered. There is still is something so comforting about that combination; the gooey sweet fluff, the smooth peanut butter and the soft, often crust-free slices of plain white bread. Even now the word “fluffernutter” makes me think back fondly of having a snack and doing homework in my parents’ old avocado-and-orange-colored kitchen.
Marshmallow Fluff looks like the ultimate mid-century concoction, a big jar of delicious, nearly nutrient-free sugary goop with an almost infinite shelf life. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was developed in a lab by the same NASA scientists who invented Tang, but you’d still be wrong. According to Mimi Graney, author of Fluff: the Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon (Union Square Press, 2017), the mixture was invented exactly one hundred years ago by Archibald Query in his home kitchen in Somerville, Mass. The ingredients he started with in 1917 are the same ingredients Fluff is made with today: egg whites, sugar, corn syrup and vanillin.
Query sold his confection door-to-door until World War I brought sugar shortages that halted production. After the war he sold the recipe to Bay State manufacturer Durkee Mower, who have been making Fluff ever since.
The popularity of Fluff is the result of Durkee Mower’s clever advertising and marketing strategies that often bordered on brilliant. In the 1930s they sponsored a radio show starring a group they called The Flufferettes. The shows included short sketches and a fictional Boston Brahmin scholar named Lowell Cabot presenting fractured tales from American history. At the end of each episode, listeners were invited to read the Book of the Moment, which always turned out to be a collection of recipes with the very unscholarly title “The Yummy Book.” (An updated version of the original volume is available for download on the Fluff corporate website.) It was also Durkee Mower who popularized the classic sandwich in the 1950s with an advertising blitz christening the combo the Fluffernutter.
Shrewd Fluff marketers also knew they needed more than sandwiches to keep the company in business. In the ‘50s and ‘60s they introduced new, but still easy to make comfort treats using Fluff. They partnered with Nestle to promote never fail fudge. The simple recipe was a runaway hit and the recipe is now on the back of every jar of Fluff. But perhaps more popular than the Fluffernutter or even the fudge are the ubiquitous Rice Krispie Treats created as the result of a partnership with Kellogg’s in 1966. The recipe used Fluff instead of individual marshmallows and the campaign helped launch the Rice Krispie treat juggernaut that’s still with us. Among best of the myriad variations and improvements to the original recipe is Smitten Kitchen’s Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats. She suggests browning the butter before adding it to the Fluff and the cereal and sprinkling sea salt over the tops for a more sophisticated treat — two additional steps that are definitely worth the effort.
Marshmallow Fluff inspires not just nostalgia, but also civic pride in the hearts of Bay State residents who turn out by the thousands for the “What the Fluff” festival in Somerville each September since Graney co-founded the festival in 2006. Durkee Mower donates cases of Fluff and along with a lot of silliness (Fluff jousting, Fluff bowling, Fluff Musical Chairs) some of the area’s best local chefs try their hand at elevating Fluff to something worthy of a Michelin-starred, world-class establishment. Graney said in her years working with the festival she’s tasted some amazing creations. “I’ve tried Fluff pizza, Fluff barbecue sauce, Fluff poutine and a really delicious avocado Fluff ice cream.”
While they are all innovative, even those with a somewhat sophisticated palate might be wary to pair Fluff with anything but peanut butter or breakfast cereal. However, after I read this list to some foodie friends, all they all they wanted to do was book airfare to Boston for this year’s festival. High on the list of novelties to try were the Tuna Fluffer — a saltine with tuna fish and Fluff topped with pickles, mustard and hot sauce. One of my foodie friends said she wanted to eat a plate of them, adding that the combination of hot sauce and Fluff could really work. Another was intrigued by what she called the “state fair stunt casting” of Fluff in traditional dishes but was still eager to try the Fluff Choripan: chorizo, wrapped in puff pastry with guava and Fluff. “The Fluff adds texture and the flavor, giving it some creaminess and sweetness. It makes sense for barbecue sauce as well.” And we all wanted to try making a Fluff and avocado smoothie.
Cocktails with Fluff are a little easier to both picture and enjoy. Perfect for the cold winter months and Harry Potter fans is the Butterbeer Winter Cocktail made with vodka, cream soda, apple cider and butterscotch, topped with a Fluff mixed with whipped cream. Grown-ups who find themselves nostalgic for the classic fluffernutter sandwich might find comfort in a Frozen Fluffernutter Martini, made with vodka, frozen bananas, peanut butter and Fluff.
Creative marketing and the decadent deliciousness of Fluff has made it a kitchen staple for a century. But despite all the trendy new ways to use Fluff with all kinds of food and drink, one of the best ways to eat it might just be standing up at the kitchen counter with the entire jar and a very large spoon.