But as soon as I had a look at what is in it I wasn't quite as excited: lime gelatin, cottage cheese and marshmallows. Which is not as bad as some 1950s gelatin mold salads. I mean, at least there isn't any celery in it, which is amazing really, that is just the sort of thing you'd expect in a green molded salad thing. But still, it isn't something I plan to make anytime soon (meaning, anytime at all).
Anyway, this ad for Moonbeam Salad got me thinking about commercial marshmallows and how long they've been around.
Marshmallow is a plant, Althaea officinalis, which has a sticky, rather gelatinous sap. This sap was an ingredient in traditional medicines used mainly to treat sore throats. The ancient Egyptians liked marshmallow root, too and used it both as medicine and confection; for the latter, they mixed it with nuts and honey.
But it was really the French who invented the marshmallow candy we know today, in the early 19th century. At first, confectioners whipped the marshmallow sap by hand and then sweetened it; later, egg whites or gelatin were added to make the process easier, because it was pretty tough work whipping marshmallow sap, as you might imagine.
People still made traditional medicines from the sap of the marshmallow plant, though. In 1836, for example, The New Female Instructor, Or, Young Woman's Guide to Domestic Happiness, Etc., gives us the recipe for "Lozenges of Marshmallows, For Coughs." This involved cleaning and scraping and boiling marshmallow roots, beating them in a mortar to a paste, and boiling the paste with sugar, rose-water and almond oil. Then you rolled out the boiled paste and cut it into lozenges. By which time you were so worn out you forgot about your sore throat, presumably.
If you had the energy to add white poppy seeds, "Florentine iris," and liquorice to your paste, the resulting lozenges would not only cure sore throats but also asthma and "even consumption of the lungs."
Marshmallows were first manufactured on a commercial scale by the early 1900s, and became increasingly popular through the 1940s and 1950s - as toasted campfire treats, in S'mores (which were supposedly invented by the Girl Scouts in the 1920s), as cake decorations and of course in
gelatin salads. They didn't cure sore throats or bad lungs, of course. But they did put the moon in Moonbeam Salad, which is something, I guess.
The marshmallow tin picture is from Pinterest - where there are loads of pictures of wonderful vintage marshmallow tins.