I never cared for fluffernutter sandwiches as a kid — they always struck me as a kind of "nothing" food. Two slices of white bread thickly smeared with peanut butter and a spread made from corn syrup, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla flavoring amounted to little more than a sickly-sweet mushy mess. I'd eat them only at friends' houses, and was always happier to have mac and cheese or tuna salad instead.
In the fall of 2011, I moved from Delaware to Massachusetts for college and found myself, all of a sudden, completely friendless. After a few drab meals in its grey dining hall, the freshmen class — myself included — started craving snacks.
I realized I could be the source of said snacks.
Recalling the joy fluffernutters had brought my childhood friends, I stocked up on jars of Fluff and peanut butter, casually leaving them in my windowsill, hoping that the sight would lure in any potential new friends to stop, chat, linger. As that first semester unfolded and my neighbors-turned-friends made repeat visits to chat and share an ooey-gooey fluff sando, I realized that my friendship trap had worked.
The case can be made that free food of any kind would have successfully wooed a pack of college students. But the fluffernutter, somehow, seemed especially effective. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had unwittingly brought the sandwich back to its birthplace — and served it to its target demographic.
As Michael Stern, co-founder of regional food guide Roadfood and co-author of The Lexicon of Real American Food, tells me, Massachusetts was the epicenter of not only the fluffernutter sandwich, but its most famous ingredient.
"In the second decade of the 20th century, Fluff was invented twice, both times in Massachusetts," he explains.
The first time was in 1913, when small-time confectioners Amory and Emma Curtis created Snowflake Marshmallow Créme in their home kitchen in Melrose. Just four years later, another small-time candy maker, Archibald Query — unaware of the Curtises — started selling his marshmallow cream door-to-door in Somerville. Stymied by the wartime sugar shortage, Query eventually sold his formula to businessmen H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower, who rebranded it as Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff, which eventually became the Marshmallow Fluff we see on shelves today.
Because his recipe gave rise to the most prominent Fluff product, Query is usually credited as its sole inventor, though the Curtises preceded him by four years. Emma Curtis was also the first person to make a fluffernutter sandwich, Stern says. In addition to her signature Snowflake Marshmallow Créme, Curtis's "Liberty Sandwich" called for protein-packed peanut butter and oat- or barley-based "war bread," in adhering to government recommendations to consume less meat and wheat amid World War I.
Likely because of its association with the war and rationing, The Liberty Sandwich remained largely unpopular until the 1960s: "This was around the time Rice Krispie treats — also made with Fluff — were getting popular as one of the multitude of easy, back-of-the-box recipes marketed to efficiency-minded housewives," Stern explains, suggesting that Fluff had a ready-made customer base for its trademarked sandwich. Once they rebranded Curtis's sandwich with a new name, the fluffernutter, the rest was history: A wallet-friendly, ultra-sweet treat was born and its wartime origins forgotten.
The fluffernutter saw its rise, peak, and fall all within the same decade. It's since come to be seen as dated junk food, with Massachusetts legislators even limiting how often fluffernutters can be served in school cafeterias.
Despite its lack of nutritional value, the fluffernutter is a deeply sentimental, if not formative, food for Massachusetts residents. That same year, State Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein filed a bill to make it the official sandwich of Massachusetts.
But there's more to Massachusetts residents' support of Reinstein's bill and attendance of annual Fluff-focused festivals than just fandom. Canonizing the fluffernutter in history means this mere sandwich is not just singularly important, but collectively. Its public validation, in turn, validates all personal histories in its orbit.
Where some modern-day fluffernutter supporters act in defense of a beloved childhood snack or memory, others have come to love it for its throwback charm.
"New generations of foodies find them an amusing retro artifact from the unsophisticated culinary past — something like Spam or Jell-O," Stern says, adding that attaining novelty status has granted the fluffernutter a second wave of popularity, 50 years later. This duality — the fluffernutter's simultaneous heart-warming nostalgia and retro unpretentiousness — is exactly what made it such an enticing treat for my liberal arts ilk. We were just the type to ride Fluff's revival wave.
Holed up in snowbound western Massachusetts living off thin dining hall coffee and forties of malt liquor, the innocent-yet-ironic taste of the fluffernutter resonated with our homesick hearts. Even those who didn't grow up with it called it "cute," "dope," "exactly what I needed right now." As comforting as it is kitsch, the fluffernutter was the perfect snack for housewives on a budget, and ironic hipsters secretly yearning for a taste of uncomplicated times.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: The Forgotten Inventor of the Fluffernutter Sandwich