The Early Marshmallow Casseroles That Should Probably Stay In The Past

A traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of a set of classic dishes. The centerpiece is usually a roast turkey, most likely because, at the early 17th-century meal shared between colonial settlers of America and the Wampanoag tribe, fowl was consumed. Turkeys were native to the area, thus giving birth to our yearly November tradition, though some historians speculate the bird was more likely a duck or goose (per Britannica). Other Thanksgiving dishes include stuffing (which dates back to Roman times, according to Back Then History), a green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, and then in certain households: a sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows.

But the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole is a semi-recent tradition, dating back to 1917 when one marshmallow company started putting enormous marketing efforts behind the fluffy white dessert (via Saveur). They were the pioneers behind the sweet candied yam dish and a few other marshmallow casseroles that have largely been forgotten — possibly in everyone's best interest.

The history of marketing marshmallows

Since the confectionary treat became mass-produced and commercialized with cornstarch and gelatin in the 1950s (per National Confectioners Association), it's only become more popular. While the marshmallow was featured as a dessert centerpiece in a 1901 New York Times article, it was not until 1915 that one marshmallow company, Bunte Brothers, marketed their product as a coveted and luxurious ingredient that was crucial to making trendy and new desserts (via Atlas Obscura). The marketing effort was multichannel: Ideas for using marshmallows were stuffed into recipe books, posters, store displays, newspaper ads, and even billboards.

This media push was so successful that two years later, another company Angelus distributed its take on the marshmallow-based recipe booklet, which contained the first recorded recipe for the infamous sweet potato casserole. According to Time Passages Nostalgia, a 1939 version of their marshmallow recipe booklet has the cover exclaiming, "Make Mine with Marshmallows!"

Campfire salads full of marshmallow and mystery

If mixing marshmallows and salad strikes your fancy, look no further than the 1950 Campfire Marshmallow recipe booklet, which features 150 recipes centered around marshmallows (via HathiTrust Digital Library). The first few pages are variations of not-so-appetizing "campfire salads," one of which includes marshmallows, mint jelly, diced apples, and maraschino cherries served upon crisp lettuce with a mysterious "cream dressing."

Though the booklet does not include a cream dressing recipe, there is a recipe for a "Campfire Mint Sauce," which involves melting and mixing up sugar, marshmallows, peppermint oil, an egg white, and green food coloring. This monstrous mix is recommended to be paired with cold meats, puddings, or gingerbread. There is no limit to the campfire imagination of where a marshmallow can go: in cream of tomato soup, on ham, and even on rice. One salad recipe still exists on their website: the Cranberry Millionaire Salad.