Marshmallows are incredibly cool -- not only do they taste good, but by lighting them you can create a great source of light in a dark campsite!
Technically, marshmallows are a confection -- a candy. They've been around in the form we know them since the mid-1800s.
They are called "marshmallows" because part of the early recipe called for sap from the root of the marshmallow plant.
According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a marshmallow is:
1: a pink-flowered European perennial herb (Althaea officinalis) of the mallow family that is naturalized in the eastern U.S. and has a mucilaginous root sometimes used in confectionery and in medicine; 2: a confection made from the root of the marshmallow or from corn syrup, sugar, albumen, and gelatin beaten to a light spongy consistency
That word "mucilaginous" means "jelly-like." Later, the root was replaced by gelatin, and that is how modern marshmallows are made.
There is a very cool cookbook called Better than Store Bought that is now out of print but still available in used book stores and libraries. It contains the following recipe for making your own marshmallows:
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 1/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Sift the cornstarch and confectioners sugar into a bowl. Lightly grease an 8x8-inch square baking pan and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch-and-sugar mixture into it. Tilt the pan to coat the sides and the bottom. Leave any excess in the pan.
- Sprinkle the gelatin into the water in a small saucepan and let soak for five minutes. Add the granulated sugar and stir over low heat until the gelatin and sugar dissolve.
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the gelatin mixture, corn syrup, salt and vanilla and beat for 15 minutes on high speed, until peaks form.
- Spread the fluffy mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Leave for two hours or until set.
- With a wet knife, cut the marshmallow mixture into quarters and loosen around the edges. Sprinkle the remaining cornstarch-and-sugar mixture on a baking sheet and invert the marshmallow blocks onto it. Cut each quarter into nine pieces and roll each one in the starch and sugar.
- Place the marshmallows on a cake rack covered with paper towels and let them stand over night to dry the surface slightly. Store airtight; the marshmallows will keep for a month.