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GROWING A MARSH MALLOW TREAT

Now, if only we could grow graham crackers and chocolate. Well . . . that's another story.

With Halloween on the horizon, thoughts naturally turn to sweet treats. And one of the sweetest around, marshmallows, actually can be grown in your garden.

Of course you can't just pluck a squishy marshmallow from a marshmallow tree. But marshmallows - real marshmallows - were originally made from the candied roots of the "marsh mallow" plant.

Can you dig it?

To find the treat, you have to get to the root of the plant. As you scratch into the soil at the base of a marsh mallow plant, the resemblance of marsh mallow roots to marshmallow candy is immediately apparent. It doesn't take long for a plant to develop fat white roots. Even after only a couple of years, roots might get as large as -3/4 inch in diameter.

Chop off a couple of these roots, take them into the kitchen, scrape them clean, then slice them into mini-marshmallow-size rounds.

Creating candy

The candying process works well for marsh mallow roots. The process begins with boiling the root pieces to soften them. This step takes about half an hour.

The next step is to pour off the water and cover the marshmallows-to-be with a syrup made by heating a mixture of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.

Finally, root pieces are boiled in the syrup until almost all the liquid evaporates. Besides being supersweet, these old-fashioned marshmallows will probably be a bit tough. But they should have a squishiness that bears a vague resemblance to the store-bought ones (now made from a mixture of sugars, egg whites and gelatin).

A floral treat too

The plants, a relative of the hibiscus, also have appeal for their flowers. Marsh mallow makes a sprawling mound about 4 feet high and wide.

Although native to coastal marshes from New York to Florida, marsh mallow will thrive without salt or boggy soil.

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