The Walk towards Winter
If you stopped by yesterday, you’ll know that I’ve been forming a habit of taking walks through the surrounding forest in order to improve my overall well-being. What I’ve enjoyed the most from this new practice is not feeling more energetic or starting each day with an active purposefulness (not that I’m not enjoying these side-effects!); but instead, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the opportunity to watch the natural world adjust to the changing seasons. At the beginning of the week, the air was certainly chilled, but the birds and squirrels seemed to pay little mind to the biting breeze, instead focusing their attention on finding bugs and berries and nuts among the dew-covered ground. However, as the week progressed, and the temperatures dropped, I couldn’t help but notice that the birds were flocking and chattering together in the brush, hesitant to leave their roost even as I approached. And that’s when I saw a new and threatening arrival to the forested stage: ice. The grass and leaf litter, once dewy and welcoming became spiked and jagged, sparkling in the morning sun as if to formally announce the approach of winter. And I, woefully underdressed in this now dazzlingly hostile environment, felt a longing that seemed to echo from our earliest ancestors; more than anything, I wanted to find a fire.
Now, being the modern being that I am, my second thought, after this primal first, was that I wanted to roast some marshmallows over that fire. As I stood in wet, freezing shoes certain I was about to catch pneumonia, I couldn’t help but wonder, could a bit of culinary archeology unite these two desires? Might marshmallows also answer a primal need? Probably not, but that doesn’t make their history any less interesting! Let’s dig in!
Marshmallow as Medicine?
It may come as a surprise to many, but the term “marshmallow” was actually coined to describe an African plant that’s been around for quite some time. According to the 16th century botanist Prospero Alpini, the ancient Egyptians (circa ~2000 BCE) first harvested and processed the marshmallow plant in order to harness the properties locked away in the plant’s root. Not unlike the modern confectionary marshmallow, the ancient Egyptians mixed the cooked mallow root with honey in order to make a soft, sticky sweet. However, wholly unlike the modern marshmallow, ancient chefs (from the time of the Egyptians up to the Middle Ages) prepared mallow root candies because of their medicinal qualities. Containing a strong mucilaginous compound, marshmallow root can effectively treat (or soothe) a wide variety of sinus and bronchial ailments, providing relief from sore throats, ulcers, and even, according to modern scientists, more serious conditions like hyperlipidemia.
If you’ve recently glanced at the nutritional information of that bag of marshmallows in your pantry, you probably spotted plenty of corn syrup in the ingredients, but no true mallow extract. For this shift, you can thank the French candy makers of the late 19th century. These innovators, in an attempt to make a more widely available marshmallow, switched the traditional root extract with gelatin, a much cheaper and easier to produce ingredient. Fast forward to the 20th century, and modern marshmallows quickly climbed from the realm of childish treat to a staple ingredient suggested by dessert and savory cookbooks alike. For today’s recipe, though, we’ll be whipping up a batch of dark hot chocolate, the perfect complement to the modern marshmallows we made yesterday (you can find the recipe here)!
Dark Hot Chocolate Recipe
Yields 2 mugs of hot chocolate
- 2 1/2 cups milk (I use soy for a lactose-free recipe, but any milk will work)
- 3 Tablespoons dark chocolate powder
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together all ingredients until smooth and combined.
- Heat mixture over medium-high heat until it reaches a simmer (approximately 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- Allow your hot chocolate to simmer for ~30 seconds to reduce slightly.
- Remove from heat, whisk until frothy, pour into your favorite mug, top with a marshmallow (or three), and enjoy!
Thanks, as always, for stopping by for this weekend’s pair of kitchen excavation. Be sure to stop in again on Tuesday to dig into another breakfast recipe!
Stay warm and keep digging!