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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Mallomar

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Those not in the know, call a Mallomar a "cookie." Poor things. They don't know any better. "Cookie" is not a descriptive word for a Mallomar, nor is cracker, nor dessert, nor any other nomenclature yet created by man. Mallomar is a Mallomar is a Mallomar, and that's the way it is.

There's no way you could make Mallomars yourself. It's impossible, so forget about it. You have to seek the double box with the shiny yellow wrapper displaying a picture of the contents on the outside. Die-hard Mallomar fans have been known to suck on this picture, once the Mals were gone.

An enormously appealing quality about the chocolate coating is its crunch. It's imperative that the Mallomar is not cracked when the box is opened, or the crunch is deflected and becomes merely a thwarted thud. You see, a Mallomar's chocolate exterior is more of a crust than a coating. Or even more accurate would be the word "mantle." It has a mantle of chocolate.

Besides being ambrosia of the gods, the individual history of the Mallomar's ingredients ignite the imagination almost as much as their combined ingredients tantalize the palate.
* * * * *

CHOCOLATE

Few foods cause such a passionate reaction at the mention of their name as does chocolate. That's all you have to say to see that glazed look in someone's eyes, a look usually reserved for lovers. Just the word "chocolate" evokes rolling waves of warm and comforting feelings that transcend age, gender, nationality, and time itself.

Chocolate existed long before the Hersey family ever wrapped their kisses in silver foil, before England's Cadbury made the first edible chocolate bar in 1847, and even before the Three Wise Men trekked across the desert with gifts. Scientists have recently discovered residues of cocoa, the basis for chocolate, in pots dating to 900 B.C. and perhaps even earlier. In all probability, the first chocoholics were the Mayans.

The latest data supporting the Mayans obsession with chocolate comes from ceramic vessels found at an archaeological site in Central America, suggesting that liquid chocolate may have been poured back and forth from jug to jug to produce the froth that was considered by the Maya and the Aztecs to be the best part of a chocolate drink.

It's easier to quit booze, smoking and caffeine, than to think you'd never have another taste of chocolate in your life. Chocolate has frequently been given a bad rap, like it causes acne, heart problems and tooth rot. Not so. If you've got zits, they're probably from being the zit age, plus the University of Pennsylvania could find no correlation between chocolate and acne. Regarding bad teeth, one of the ingredients in chocolate (cocoa butter) might even prevent tooth decay by protectively coating the teeth. As to heart problems, University of California, Davis, has found that chocolate carries high levels of chemicals known as phenolics, some of which may help lower the risk of heart disease. So there.
* * * * *

MARSHMALLOW

An equally crucial component to the Mallomar is marshmallow. Where does this word come from? It's simple -- A mallow is a type of shrub whose cousins are hibiscus, okra, and cotton. Okay, that's the second half of the word. The first half is where the mallow grows. In a marsh. A confection is made from the root of the marsh mallow.

The mallow was first found in an Olde English medical book written about 1000 A.D. and it was spelled merscmealwe.

Aside from toasting them over campfires and melting them atop holiday yams, the marshmallow was pretty limited in appeal. Until the Mallomar.

The same can be said for the round graham cracker base of a Mallomar.
* * * * *

GRAHAM CRACKERS

For the round base of the Mallomar, we can thank an early 19th-Century Presbyterian clergyman named Sylvester Graham. Born in Connecticut in 1794, Graham studied at Amherst College and was ordained to the ministry when he was in his early 30s.

A man of decided opinions, Graham's major convictions concerned what people ate and drank. An ardent advocate of the temperance movement, the Reverend Mr. Graham was absolutely convinced of the merits of eating only vegetables. He also believed people who didn't eat meat wouldn't drink alcohol.

"Christianity, temperance, and vegetarianism" became his cry, and he attracted an avid following of believers. In the mid-1800s, many big cities had Graham Boarding Houses, testaments to healthy living as directly related to healthy eating.

Graham bread and Graham crackers caught on big time. They used only wheat flour, which Graham had prepared especially. As people practiced what he preached, the demand for the flour grew until it became available to the public, and his name was forever associated with it.

The Mallomar, as we know it today, could not have existed without him.
* * * * *
These facts are interesting for one reason. You have to have chocolate and marshmallow and Graham crackers to make Mallomars, those delectable, delicious, divine dumplings of desire. One Mallomar is too many and a thousand are not enough.

Because their makers know that warm weather is bad for the product and at the very least takes the distinctive sheen off the chocolate, they're sold only in the winter months, from October to May. This makes it difficult if you live on the west coast where there is no winter to speak of. They're more of a New York thing and when you're born and raised there, you can get the bends by moving west where Mals are not easy to come by.

Made since 1913 by Nabisco (then called the National Biscuit Company) in a single Pennsylvania bakery, Mallomars have a thick layer of rounded, smooth marshmallow on a circular Graham cracker base, all covered in pure dark chocolate. Because of the manner in which the chocolate is poured over the marshmallow and Graham cracker, there's a nipple atop the Mallomar. This only adds to the legend of the Mallomar -- the ultimate comfort food. Oh Mama!

For the impatient Mallomar fanatic, a fast bite of all three parts simultaneously results in a rush of integrated flavors flooding the taste buds simultaneously. A quick thrill, which necessitates a second Mallomar immediately. This can cause an addition for which the Bette Ford Center has no known remedy.

For the discerning fanatic, a slow embrace of teeth on chocolate is the preferred method of enjoyment. First, the sound triggers one's imagination. Is it the sound of you as a child with boots cracking the layer of ice over snow on a wintry morning, or the click of high heels on a marble floor? Then comes the texture -- rich, dark, sensual. If Denzel Washington were a food, he'd be that. The succulent marshmallow can either be allowed to slowly melt in one's mouth, or squished sweetly and tantalizingly between one's tongue and the roof of one's mouth. Or between the teeth, if nobody is watching.

For the method eaters, there are at least three wondrous ways to enjoy a Mallomar. Eater number one enjoys the Mallomar in three to four bites and it's gone forever; Eater number two separates the Graham cracker base and eats that first, followed by the remaining chocolate-covered marshmallow which can be eaten either right-side up or down. Some enjoy the cracking sound more if it's made with the bottom teeth. Eater number three is the highest Mallomar aficionado -- He can get the chocolate off without denting the marshmallow. This takes years of practice. Like living a good life, it's not the result that counts, it's the journey.

Those not in the know may easily say the Mallomar is just a cookie, but that's like saying Fred Astaire was just a dancer.


Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
November 10, 2005 column
Email:
maggie@maggievanostrand.com


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