- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

LYNN, Mass.

Much of Don Durkee’s 80-year life has been Fluff. His father began peddling Marshmallow Fluff — a gooey, spreadable, sticky delight — door to door in 1920 and later founded a family business to make it. Ever since, New England schoolchildren have grown up on Fluffernutter sandwiches — peanut butter and a layer of marshmallow on bread.

Now, in its home state of Massachusetts, Fluff has come under fire. A state senator proposed limiting its availability in school lunchrooms to once a week, horrified at the prospect of it being a daily staple of children’s diets. Another lawmaker jumped to Fluff’s defense, nominating the Fluffernutter as the official state sandwich.

Mr. Durkee, who now leads his family’s company and churns out Fluff by the ton inside the Durkee-Mower Inc. headquarters in Lynn, isn’t one for the spotlight. He is content to make Fluff and nothing else. This year, the company is on the brink of selling 7 million pounds for the first time in its history.

Ever since the debate started, he has shunned calls from reporters.

“Like most people, I think it is a little frivolous to bring it to the attention of our governing bodies,” Mr. Durkee said as he sat in his office and fidgeted with his reading glasses. “I think obesity is a problem, but I don’t think it can be legislated.”

The kerfuffle has stirred passions in generations of New Englanders who fondly associate Fluff with their childhoods, while others question its place in an increasingly obese world.

Fluff’s allure isn’t up for debate. Even state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, the Democrat who proposed limiting Fluffernutter sandwiches in schools, says he has it at home.

“He loves Fluff as much as the next legislator,” said Barrios aide Colin Durrant.

State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, also a Democrat, announced her own legislation designating the Fluffernutter as the official state sandwich. Mr. Barrios insisted he isn’t anti-Fluff and said he plans to co-sponsor Miss Reinstein’s bill, but still supports rationing Fluff in school lunches.

“I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff,” Miss Reinstein said.

Fluff was invented in the Somerville kitchen of Archibald Query, who sold it door to door just before World War I.

In 1920, two veterans of the war — H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower — bought the recipe from Mr. Query for $500. With a barrel of sugar and a secondhand Ford, the pair took to the road to look for customers. Back then, a gallon of the stuff sold for about $1; these days, a 16-oz. jar goes for a little more than $2.

Fluff has always been just four ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white and vanilla. The corn syrup and sugar are cooked and poured into 13 mixing bowls that stand 6 feet tall. One person measures the egg whites and vanilla for every batch by hand.

“I can’t tell you how long we whip it for,” Mr. Durkee said without smiling. “That’s about the only part of the trade secret. You could almost invent it by accident.”

While most other companies start with one product and then branch out, Durkee-Mower just makes Fluff. About as diverse as it has become is making different flavors, such as raspberry and strawberry.

“While it looks like it’s old-fashioned, they are not so dumb,” said Roberta Clarke, a marketing professor at Boston University. “There is no other word for Fluff. They own the category.”

The privately held company says Fluff can be used in fruit salads, cheesecakes, lemon meringue pies, fruit-flavored shakes and dessert bars. Dollops of Fluff can go in hot chocolate or be used as the base for cake frosting. The “Yummy Book,” a Fluff cookbook, includes recipes for sweet potato souffle, never fail fudge and popcorn fluff puffs.

“It makes great whoopie pies,” Mr. Durkee added.

Durkee-Mower does have some competition in the spreadable marshmallow market, including Kraft Food Inc., which makes Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme. Kraft would not disclose sales figures or poundage.

More than 50 percent of the Fluff sold is in New England and upstate New York, said Mr. Durkee, who wouldn’t disclose exact figures. However, as Northeasterners move west and south — and supermarket chains merge — Fluff has followed.

“Fluff has gone through so many generations — parents, children — so many people grew up on it,” Mr. Durkee said. “It’s convenient. And kids like it.”

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