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Weird History Wednesday: Marshmallows in Rochester

Weird History Wednesday: Marshmallows in Rochester

Happy Wednesday!

Today marks the premiere of a new blog feature we’ll be doing: Weird History Wednesdays! We'll be uncovering and researching all of the strange things tucked away in Rochester’s weird and colorful past.

This week, our attention is focused on marshmallows. Yes, those sweet, whipped sugar candy treats that are a necessary staple in any decent campfire experience. Marshmallows, named after the marsh-mallow plant where the sweet sap was extracted from the mallow root, were originally developed in ancient Egypt. At first, they were used for medicinal purposes, like soothing a sore throat, but soon the marshmallow became known as more of a tasty treat rather than a gummy remedy.

In the early 19th century, confectioners worked to perfect the marshmallow, making it sweeter and fluffier, but this process was labor-intensive and confectioners could not keep up with the demand for the marshmallow’s rising star. Soon, French manufacturers figured out a way to use egg whites or gelatin combined with cornstarch to create a base, which avoided the need for extracting sap from the mallow root. This new marshmallow-making process required industrial methods to ensure that the mixture would be blended correctly.

Enter Joseph B. Demerath, the first confectioner in America to commercially distribute marshmallows. Where did he churn out all those revolutionary fluffy marshmallows? Rochester, NY of course! In 1895, Mr. Demerath began his marshmallow enterprise. The Rochester Marshmallow Company made and distributed marshmallows to several American candy-outlets. As with most hip and trendy things, soon after Mr. Demerath’s success, other confectioners began to produce marshmallows commercially and by 1900, marshmallows became mainstream, with distributors all over the country.

[Photo Credit: India Lombardi-Bello]

The building where the Rochester Marshmallow Company's factory used to be is located in the High Falls District.  To see it in person, it feels like you are on hallowed ground (or maybe in this case mallowed ground). The building is surprisingly commanding, especially once it dawns on you that this is where Marshmallows began in America.  Without The Rochester Marshmallow Company, we would not have s’mores, which is a fundamentally American treat. Without The Rochester Marshmallow Company, and the ambition and intellect of Joseph B. Demerath, there would be a little hole in the heart of the confection industry.

(You can see where it used to say 'Marshmallow Company' under the first row of windows.)

[Photo Credit: India Lombardi-Bello]

Since the Rochester Marshmallow Company became defunct, the building went on to house the Rochester Plumbing Supply Company. Once they closed, the building fell into disrepair. Luckily soon thereafter the building was renovated into luxury apartments and restored to its previous glory.  Though we've never been inside, we can only hope that the hallways have the scent of marshmallows still lingering throughout. (And if it doesn't don't tell us- we can dream, can't we?)

So, next time you find yourself in the presence of a marshmallow, remember to savor that unique Rochester flavor that went into making the marshmallow what it is today.

(A laboratory for marshmallows?!?!)

[Photo Credit: India Lombardi-Bello]

Does all this talk of marshmallows have you craving something sweet?  Then maybe you should check out our upcoming class on how to make French Macarons

(Marshmallows in Rochester sources: The History of Marshmallows, Marshmallow Pioneers, Historical factories will be put to new use.)

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