Albanians are always asking me what traditional food we eat in America and I try to explain to them that all of our food comes from other countries and other cultures. How we are a country of immigrants with very few “traditions” in the same sense that they understand the word. But like most arguments, I usually lose and end up inventing things that are “traditioanlly” American just to get them to drop it. It works much better that way.
So what’s traditional American food? My answer is now pancakes with maple syrup, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and marshmallows. Yup. Can’t think of anything more traditionally American than melted sugar sandwiched between chocolate and graham crackers. Maybe it’s the inner Girl Scout in me or the years spent camping with my family, but either way, America to me tastes like a s’more. So that’s what I set out to do – to introduce my students here to my American lifestyle be feeing them endless amounts of marshmallows and s’more.
One small problem. You can’t buy marshmallows in Albania (which is another reason why I consider them to be so typically American and why most Albanian believe me, because it’s so exotic that they’ve never seen or heard of them or tasted them). But never fear, I refuse to be defeated by the lack of cooking supplies in this country. So here is how I did it. How I created s’mores in a country without gelatin, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, corn syrup, graham crackers, or anything else resembling the processed deliciousness that goes into good old American cooking.
Step 1: have an awesome mom back home who will indulge you and ship you massive amounts of knox gelatin. You can try to use your local Albanian stuff, but like most things it’s just not the same and doesn’t quite work like you want it to.
Step 2: find a group of willing test subjects to experiment on (any Albanian student will do the trick) and a place to light a fire without burning down the city. I usually save this activity for days at the beach since camping is an exotic and foreign activity in and of itself, so if you wait for that day you could be waiting a while.
Step 3: find a blender that won’t explode after being used continuously for 15 minutes on high. This may be harder than it sounds since Albanian outlets do not have consistent electricity flowing through them and appliances tend to overheat, melt, spark, and explode or what have you. Use at your own risk. This is my 4th time making marshmallows this way, which is evident by the one-whisked blender I’m using. It’s on it’s last legs but it still gets the job done.
Here are my basic substitutions- instead of corn syrup I make my own sugar based syrup. Instead of vanilla extract I use the vanilla sugar that is easily available at my super market. Instead of graham crackers, use any square shapes plain cookie you can find.
Moral of the story, don’t be defeated by the lack of supplies around you. Get creative and make it happen. Anything is possible, even marshmallows in Albania.
2 packets of knox gelatin
8 tablespoons of cold water
2 cups of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cover the bottom of a pan with a powdered sugar/corn starch mixture. Set aside.
Combine granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a large heavy saucepan.
Cook and stir over medium heat until dissolved.
Add gelatin and bring to a boil.Remove from heat. Pour into a large mixing bowl and let stand until partially cool.
Add salt and vanilla extract.
Beat with an electric mixer until soft and double in volume. About 10-15 minutes.
Pour into prepared pan to about 1/2 inch thick. Cover the top with the remainder of the powdered sugar/corn starch mixture.
Cut into 1.5 inch pieces.
Make a campfire, find some sticks, and make s’mores!
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”