Did you grow tired of marshmallows?
I’m not sure why I thought of marshmallows and baked potatoes today. Most likely, it was because the summer heat reminded me of roasting something by a campfire.
I loved summer. Its sweet smells: a newly cut lawn, dirt of the garden, a fresh tomato, the sweat of a game, the cool of the sprinkler, and steam from the rain seemed to be a part of every day. When it rained, the splattering drops intensified the reflection of the sun that bounced off the street. It yielded a smell as fresh as a peach and as stale as a musty cellar. I learned later in science class that the smell was ozone; oxygen with an extra molecule.
We played games in the nearby hills, believing we were anything from Army guys to men of the frontier. It depended on what movie we saw that week.
In those hills, we built a fire pit for baking potatoes by digging a hole deep into the cool sand, surrounding it with rocks, adding gathered tinder and burying the potatoes in it. The potatoes took way longer than expected, but were worth the effort when we dug them out and put them aside to cool while we played.
A potato cooked in a campfire somehow tastes noticeably different (and better) than one cooked any other way. Burned on the outside, it was soft and delicious on the inside. The partially burned skin also was good, combining a charcoal taste with a pleasing crunch. Maybe it was just because we cooked it ourselves in some kind of survival exercise. Or, maybe because we were kids, we didn’t actually know what we were eating. I guess if Mom served it, I wouldn’t eat it.
And then there were marshmallows on the beach as in, “Let’s roast marshmallows.” Anytime anyone lit a fire, someone screamed it with passion, almost as if the marshmallows were something to worship. Maybe on a cool night at the beach, with waves crashing, the moon shining, the stars glittering, the heat of the fire and a cool breeze foiling the mosquitoes, it was.
Made from the sap of the mallow plant, whipped egg whites, water and sugar syrup, each marshmallow was a domed square perfectly formed for roasting on a stick. They melted quickly. A skilled marshmallow expert could crisp it just enough, twirl the stick to catch the flow, bring it to the lips, blow and steer the dripping delight into the open mouth where, with a simple squish, it floated down and away. Marshmallows had an indefinable, addictive flavor that made you think you could eat the whole package, but after just two (maybe three), the yearning quickly diminished. If you weren’t careful, you could go marshmallow mad and eat too many. That’s when I grew to dislike them.
Over the years, there were the marshmallow recipes that tried to win me back; the fluffernutter and some sort of square mix with Rice Krispies. Neither did it for me.
I’ll just sit by that cozy fire while you all roast.
** In yesterday’s GoLocalProv