by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & ention favorite sandwiches from childhood, and you'll bump into some seriously strong emotions really fast. Childhood memories come wrapped in layers of nostalgia, after all, and people have firm, definite opinions about what constitutes good food.
The cold-cut sandwich is a classic. One Inlander colleague remembers liverwurst with great fondness -- really -- while another favored turkey (when he wasn't eating grilled cheese made with Velveeta). Back in my suburban-Boston childhood, bologna was the meat of choice: all-beef bologna (Dad was particular about his deli meats) with either mustard or mayo. I've found curious regional differences in bologna memories: Fellow food writer M.C. Paul grew up in the rural South eating "Arkansas round steak" on soft white bread with Miracle Whip, while a mutual friend from Wenatchee recalls a local brand of bologna served up on buttered white bread with ketchup. The ketchup-on-bologna was also a favorite of Arts and Culture Editor Michael Bowen during his early days in Southern California.
Of course peanut butter ranks high on the list, regardless of geography. (One of the odder entries comes from Bowen: peanut butter and pickles.) My favorite as a kid was Jif (smooth, not crunchy) on white bread, topped with grape jam. One of my first culinary differences of opinion with my mother -- the first of many -- arose over the method of PB & amp;J assembly. She would spread peanut butter on one slice of bread, jam on another, and put them together. I insisted that the jam go on top of the peanut butter, the whole thing then topped with the second slice of bread. My reasoning -- and I stand by this -- was that if you spread the jam directly onto the bread, it soaks into the bread before it can merge with the peanut butter. I experimented briefly with spreading a thin layer of peanut butter on each slice of bread, thus forming a sort of barrier, but I soon abandoned that theory in favor of faster assembly.
But for PB sandwiches, nothing tops a New England classic: the Fluffernutter, a sandwich with its own marketing campaign since the 1940s. There was even a special jingle. (Visit www.marshmallowfluff.com and go to the Fluffernutter page.) To make one, spread your bread with peanut butter then top it with a layer of Marshmallow Fluff -- a gooey white spread (made from sugar, egg whites and corn syrup) that's been manufactured just north of Boston since 1920. Make sure your Fluff layer is thick enough that the white goo oozes out from between the bread slices, lava-like. (Etiquette then demands that you lick off the excess so it won't get all over your fingers -- and from there, onto clothing, into hair, and so on.)
Lest you think this story is pure nostalgic -- um -- fluff, consider: Two years ago, a member of the Massachusetts legislature attempted to ban Fluffernutters from school cafeteria menus. In response, another legislator countered with a bill naming the Fluffernutter the official state sandwich. In the ensuing kerfuffle -- dubbed "Fluffgate" by the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor -- the would-be Fluff-snatcher backed down from an outright ban, but the controversy sparked significant debate about school nutrition, childhood obesity, legislative micromanagement and good intentions gone horribly awry. (The Massachusetts legislature can handle the gay marriage debate, but apparently trips up over sandwich ingredients.) Everyone agrees it was a sticky situation.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & hadn't had a Fluffernutter for ages -- due mainly to the sandwich's perceived nutritional vacuity. Sure, I still occasionally splurge on a PB & amp;J (now made with organic peanut butter on whole wheat bread), but, hey, that's like having fruit and nuts. Sort of. After receiving a jar (or three) of Fluff from the ever-curious M.C. Paul, though, I was shocked to learn that Marshmallow Fluff has far fewer calories and sugar grams (40 calories, 6g sugar) per two-tablespoon serving than strawberry preserves (100 calories, 24g sugar).
A healthy, guilt-free Fluffernutter? Strengthens wonder and disbelief.
I began with a loaf of fresh-baked whole wheat bread from the Natural Start Bakery. (Baker Alyssa Krafft grew up in Connecticut, so she too knows the joys of Fluff.) I spread a slice with my crunchy PB and then added Fluff. The Fluff didn't spread well (I had forgotten that in my nostalgic haze), so I kind of dolloped it on and then squished it out when I put the other half of the bread on top. The filling oozed out the edges with every bite.
The wheat bread had a bit more structure than the pillowy white breads of yore, and the sweetness of the Fluff contrasted nicely with the earthiness of the peanut butter. The combination stirred something deep inside, a flavor memory that was nearly forbidden to present-day Bay State schoolchildren. It's not something for every day, but as a once-in-a-while treat? I could dig up a lot worse from childhood.