LYNN NEARY, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block, with the itch to make something from scratch. And why not something seasonal, something that would never have occurred to me to make at home if I hadn't been persuaded by a new book from Jennifer Reese, who describes homemade marshmallows as fairy food - pillowy, quivering and soft.
JENNIFER REESE: Oh, they just taste so much better. They're fluffier and they're just more delicious. They don't turn out to be cheaper but they are better.
BLOCK: So, homemade marshmallows it will be.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARSHMALLOW WORLD")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) It's a marshmallow world in the winter, when the snow comes to cover the ground.
BLOCK: Jennifer Reese joined me from San Francisco to guide me through the marshmallow-making process, which turned out to be surprisingly simple. You'll find the full recipe at NPR.org. It involves gelatin dissolved in water and a fast boil of sugar, water and corn syrup.
REESE: Yeah, this is the sugar syrup that makes everything happen. Now you turn on the stove to high and let her rip. And you want to let it boil 'til it gets to about 265 degrees Fahrenheit.
BLOCK: Meanwhile, we separate a couple of eggs and the whites go into the mixer.
(SOUNDBITE OF MIXER)
BLOCK: They need to be beaten until they're firm and glossy, so time to put the hammer down on the Kitchen-Aid.
(SOUNDBITE OF MIXER)
BLOCK: It's like a race here, Jennifer. Will the egg whites be beaten before the sugar syrup reaches 265 degrees?
(SOUNDBITE OF MIXER)
BLOCK: OK. The sugar syrup is at a furious boil and the egg whites are coming along nicely. Ooh, it's getting so fluffy. Once the sugar syrup is hot enough, it gets whipped into the egg whites along with the gelatin and some vanilla.
(SOUNDBITE OF MIXER)
BLOCK: OK. Now, Jennifer, it's looking really sloppy. Is that good?
REESE: Yeah, it's fine. You just have to let it go and let it keep beating and it'll eventually come together and become a beautiful cloud - puffy, white, billowing cloud.
BLOCK: Which, after many minutes, it does. And then we pour the whole beautiful, sticky, shiny goo onto a prepared cookie sheet. That's going to sit overnight. So, let's go back to Jennifer Reese and the book that inspired us to set out on our marshmallow adventure. It's called "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter," and it chronicles her odyssey through trial and error of figuring out what foods are worth the effort of making yourself and what you should just buy right off the shelf.
REESE: I've always been a really avid and ambitious cook, and a few years ago I lost my job and I had this moment of thinking, well, you know, I'm going to save all this money to do all those exciting "Little House on the Prairie" cooking jobs that I've always wanted to try.
BLOCK: Jennifer Reese's enthusiasm knew no bounds. So, she wasn't just baking bread or grinding peanut butter, she was frying up potato chips, making her own Pop-Tarts, stretching curds into mozzarella, infusing vermouth, curing pastrami and fermenting kimchee, not to mention raising chickens, turkeys and goats at her home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jennifer Reese includes a hassle factor with each recipe in her book, ranging from none at all to truly a pain in the (beep), to you will want to bludgeon yourself with your rolling pin about halfway through this project.
REESE: Anything was fair game. Worcestershire sauce - oh yeah, I'm going to look up a recipe. And I tried it and it was absolutely stupendous. Pastrami was a lot of work, a lot of work.
BLOCK: Was it worth it, the pastrami?
REESE: Yeah, it was worth it in the moment but I haven't done it since.
BLOCK: Tell me about the Worcestershire sauce. You rave about this in the book.
REESE: Yeah. I've only actually made it once because I use very little Worcestershire sauce. I mean, how many bottles do you go through in a lifetime?
BLOCK: One, I think.
REESE: Yeah, it was just black and tarry and it just had so much flavor. And, you know, taste it against the kind, you know, in the paper-wrapped bottle, it was just outstanding. It wasn't quite as vinegary and thin. I think it's really worth doing because you only have to do it so rarely.
BLOCK: You know, I have to ask, Jennifer, how big a pantry and a freezer you must have, because at certain points it seems like you have camembert ripening in the closet and sauerkraut fermenting or doing whatever sauerkraut does, and you have vermouth infusing and pancetta that is aging hanging from your pipes. It sounds like your house basically got turned into an experimental larder for a long time.
REESE: It was crazy. It was crazy. There were, like, jars of yogurt and creme fraiche on the counter. And I had this immense prosciutto that I had made sitting in the refrigerator. Yeah, and the cheese situation got crazy. I was making cheese every day for a while because it was so exciting to do.
BLOCK: Well, since your premise here is make it or buy it, let's tick through a few of these and you tell me whether we should be making it buying it, OK?
BLOCK: Hot dog buns.
REESE: Hot dog buns, I think you should make, because they are so much more delicious than what you can buy. They also cost less and they're quite easy.
BLOCK: Really? OK. Bacon. You make your own bacon. Make it or buy it?
REESE: You know, I had made my own bacon and it's delicious. But you can buy bacon, and unless you have a smoker - and if you're going to try to smoke it in your own house, as I have done, I think it's probably easier to buy it. It's definitely easier to buy it. I think it's probably worth buying.
BLOCK: Well, we did hot dog buns - how about ketchup? Make it or buy it?
REESE: Ketchup, I made a number of different ketchup and I was pretty sure that homemade ketchup would have to be more delicious than Heinz, but then I had a ketchup-tasting party and everybody preferred the Heinz. Because if it doesn't taste like Heinz, it's not really ketchup.
REESE: That's not necessarily a good thing. It's just the way it is. You know, if it's a little different, it's not ketchup.
BLOCK: Which brings us back to our marshmallows. Now, I've cut them into cubes, they're dusted with powdered sugar and they look fantastic, but they're not the classic jet-puffed marshmallow everyone remembers from their childhood. So, would mine stand up to store-bought? I brought them to the harshest and hungriest food critics known to humankind - the staff of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Starting with a man of very discriminating taste, my co-host Robert Siegel.
ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: It's amazing.
BLOCK: It tastes like a marshmallow.
SIEGEL: It tastes exactly like a marshmallow, except there's no fire around it. No, it's great. It's terrific. It's quite marshmallow-y. You made these? These are delicious. Really, really good.
BLOCK: Lynn Neary has arrived.
NEARY: That's really good. I think it's better than store-bought. I like the texture better. It's a little creamier.
SIEGEL: Those are the way to make them, yeah.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) The marshmallow without being friendly. Here we are about the evergreen tree. And...
BLOCK: And if you want to try making the marshmallows yourself, you can find the recipe and a step-by-step photo guide at our website, NPR.org. We also have the recipes for hot dog buns and Worcestershire sauce from Jennifer Reese's book, "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) The world is a snowball just for its snow. You better get out and roll it along. Oh, it's a yum, yummy world made for sweethearts. Take a walk with your favorite guy. It's a sugar (unintelligible), what if spring is late. In winter, it's a marshmallow world. It's a marshmallow...
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