To Mimi Graney, Marshmallow Fluff isn’t just a whimsical condiment. As the founder of the annual What the Fluff? festival in Union Square, where the pillowy product was invented in 1917, she says the story of Fluff is a uniquely American one—as much a tale of innovation and modernization as it is a desire to slather candy between two slices of bread and call it lunch. That’s why she’s literally written the book on the sugary stuff—Fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon (Union Park Press, 2017)—which hit shelves March 9.
In Fluff, Graney thinks outside the lunchbox to tell a story about about Fluff’s role in New England’s oft-forgotten candy-making history. You’ll learn about the time its manufacturer stood up to national brands and the sandwich stuffing’s part in changing roles for women, all of which helps explain the unlikely endurance of this historic Somerville sweet.
Before the book debuts, we asked Graney to share a few bite-sized morsels of info here.
#1: Marshmallow Fluff was invented in Somerville 100 years ago by Archibald Query. As a boy, Query emigrated from Canada and initially lived in Franklin, Massachusetts. He moved to Somerville in 1900, when he was in his mid-twenties. He shared a house with his younger brother Henry (who also worked in confections), along with his other younger brother Armand and their father, James (both photographers). Query’s two teenaged sisters, mother and grandmother remained in Franklin.
#2: Fluff’s famous inventor narrowly escaped one of the wildest industrial accidents ever. Query was a foreman at the Walter M. Lowney Company, one of the country’s biggest candy manufacturers. He was in Lowney’s factory in Boston’s North End the day of the Great Molasses Flood. On January 15, 1919, a giant tank of molasses four stories high gave way, unleashing a massive, devastating tidal wave. The two million gallons of heavy, sticky sugar destroyed all the buildings nearby, coming to rest at the edge of the Lowney factory. The force was so strong that the girders of the train line Archibald would have used to get to work buckled. It sounds bizarre bordering on laughable now, but the consequences were very serious, with 21 people killed and 150 injured. It took months to clean up the mess.
#3: The iconic Fluffernutter sandwich is older than you think. Durkee-Mower, the company that brought Query’s Fluff to the masses, popularized the classic pairing of peanut butter and marshmallow cream between slices of bread in the 1950s—but it didn’t come up with the idea. In the 1910s in Melrose, Emma Curtis and her brother Amory were producing Snowflake Marshmallow Crème and other confections. In 1918, a tiny book of recipes distributed along with the company’s tins of marshmallow cream included directions for a “Liberty Sandwich,” comprised of marshmallow cream and peanut butter between slices of oat bread. The name might have come from the need for meat substitutes during World War I food shortages, or it could have been a nod to the family’s pedigree; the siblings were the greatgreat- great grandchildren of Paul Revere.
#4: Marshmallow cream was just part of the region’s sugar craze; Boston was once the candy capital of America. The city got a head start in American candy making thanks to chocolate. Early colonists roasted cacao beans at home to make chocolate drinks, and the first American chocolate company, the Walter Baker Company, opened here. At the turn of the 20th century, game-changing local inventions, the region’s robust transportation network and readily available immigrant labor helped expand the candy-making industry. As a result, some of the world’s largest candy companies—Schraffts, Lowney’s, Baker’s and NECCO—were all booming here. Specific neighborhoods earned evocative nicknames, like Confectioner’s Row just outside Central Square in Cambridge and Chocolate Village in Dorchester’s Lower Mills.
#5: Marshmallow Fluff is actually older than sliced bread. The very first documentation of marshmallow cream was in 1896, in a cookbook by famed Boston author Fannie Farmer. A number of commercially made marshmallow creams followed in the early 1900s, with our beloved Marshmallow Fluff born in 1917. It wasn’t until 1921 that Wonder Bread, the nation’s first commercially produced pre-sliced bread, was sold.
Bonus Fact! Marshmallow Fluff is a New England favorite. While other companies also produce their own versions of marshmallow cream, Marshmallow Fluff dominates the world market. It’s sold all over the world, from Japan to Australia, Africa to Europe. Still, it’s New Englanders who love Fluff best of all. Each year, Durkee-Mower makes close to 7 million pounds of the iconic sweet spread, 50 percent of which is sold in the Northeast.
You can find Graney’s sugary story at local shops including Davis Squared, Magpie, Spindler Confections and Porter Square Books. Can’t get enough Fluff? Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 23, when the What the Fluff? festival will celebrate the condiment’s 100th anniversary.
This story originally appeared in the March/April print edition of Scout, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription. Like what you’re reading? Consider supporting Scout on Patreon!