Friday, June 16, 2017

A Greek American Made Chicago the Marshmallow Capital and I made a Mess of Campfire Marshmallows at Cracker Jack

Image result for alex doumak

I was reading DNAinfo Chicago's article about the openning of the "first" Chicago Marshmallow Cafe!!!!!!  XO Marshmallow, set to open in Rogers Park July 1st, sound too cute by half, "For marshmallow-lovers, it's an edible playground.The store features a mixture of ready-to-eat treats, customizable topping bars, hot and cold drinks and other items for sale, as well as offer a small seating area. "


Kind of a BFD story; marshmallows and Chicago are old news.

I made marshmallows, when I got burned and broke three toes working the line at Cracker Jack in 1968.  It was a godsend.

The college kid with whom I was paired passed out from the heat and dropped his end of hot huge kettle of molten cracker jacker, which whammed down on my brogans and broke the Big toe and two of his cousins and burned the hell out of my shins.

Crack Jack Factory on Cicero Ave. was a Fritz Laing of a place in 1968.

My Cousin Mike and I got hired even though we were under age - He was 17 and me just shy of it. We were assigned as General Indirect - we could be sent anywhere and told to do anything: sew up bags of re-cycled corn starch, load freight, or work as a machinist's gofer in the plant.  We worked production every day 3-9 P.M.  We followed F.W. Rueckheim's recipe made famous at the Chicago Exhibition.

Popcorn and peanuts coated in caramel stick together in a huge gooey mass. Rueckheim's little brother came up with the idea of blowing air into the mixture and giving it a long tumble in a cement mixer type of drum and VOILA! Separate but equally delicious.

In 1968, Cracker Jack went 24/7 and Production was on the top floor. It was 115 degrees on average.  We began each day with crisp white uniform and came out eight hours later brownish yellow.

The operation went like this.

  • At the sound of bell one man would take the 65 gallon steel drum full of hot popcorn from an assembly line to his dual work station (one man left and one right), pour a cup of corn oil into the popcorn and mix until a bell rang
  • At this bell, each man would kick his kettle up on the station fitted with a huge screw, an Air blowing duct, and valve release for the boiling hot carmel - pull lever, wait for the bell.  
  • Shut valve
  • Place long steel rod into the mixture and stir until bell
  • Open Air jet - wait for bell
  • Close Air jet - wait of bell Lower screw and mix - for bell
  • Raise screw - wait for bell
  • Horse kettle off and drag to conveyor with your partner swing kettle onto conveyor
  • Conveyor goes to the dump shute and Cracker Jack goes down one floor where peanuts are added. 
All shift, you sweat like a whore in church.

The lower floor where coated peanuts are added is . . .air conditioned.  It is on this floor that the peanuts and the prizes are added.  Women make up the work force here, with the exception of the machinist. Cousin Mike was assigned to the machinist and was stuck with a Joe college newbie. 

I would soon go to the cold!

The day Mike was reassigned, my partner passed out and I went to the Clearing Health Clinic and told, " You got busted toes kid," had salves applied to the burns, take two days off.

I went back to work three days later. I was told to make marshmallows.

On this air conditioned paradise Campfire Marshmallows are made according the recipe of Greek American hero Alex Doumakes - Americanized to Doumak. 

The Marshmallow is a flower with tasty health benefits.  In the mid 1800's the French mixed the flower's juices with eggs and sugar, as a lozenge for swells.  In the 19th Century, Chicago became the hog-butcher of the world and world cent for gelatin.

Gelatin, boys and girls, " is a translucent, colorless, brittle (when dry), flavorless food derived from collagen obtained from various animal body parts. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceutical drugs, vitamin capsules, photography, and cosmetic manufacturing." 

Bones, hair, fats, snouts, hooves, ears and tails of piggies, lambs and cows makes Jello!

Gelatin became all the rage. Aspics were no longer limited to the swells, but available to Stosh and Gert.

Jello Gelatin became synonymous with Cherry, Lemon, Orange and Lime and not hogs, beeves and sheep parts. 

Chicago is a waste not, want not town, or it was. 

By 1921, a Greek in California came up with a recipe for Marshmallows in their current form.  Gelatin allowed the confection to be produced cheaply and widely. Soon Alex Doumak's recipe was side-by-side with Herr Rueckheim's Cracker Jack right here in Chicago. 

My task was to monitor the serpentine flow of sweet white gelatinous oozings of to the corn starch covering. This goo clogged up a storm and set-f alarms bells until the machinist showed up to cloear it.  I was stuck - stuck -stuck with ropes of marshmallow all over me.   Like the Laocoon I was covered in snakes of marshmallow. Image result

After eight hours of fighting boas of marshmallow and stepping onto the spillage, I had added an additional three inches to the majesty of my height. This repeated itself for next two days, until production boss Tony Grippo had had enough of the machinist pissing in his ear about 'That gap-toothed moron fucked up the marshmallow conductor again' and was sent back to the 115 degree heat of Cracker Jack Production.  

Damn glad I was of it too.  They found out that me and Mike were under-age and gave us the heave-ho.  Damn glad we were of it too.  

It's a Chicago thing, this yarn. 

Marshmallows are plants that soothed sore throats when mixed sugar and eggs - for the well-off.  Gelatin is a by-product of animal parts.  Chicago was ground zero for animal parts.  A German mixed caramel coated popcorn and peanuts and became a portmanteau word and baseball icon. A Greek made marshmallows available top working stiffs.  The German stated making and marketing the Greek's confection from his Chicago plants. I made both.  Now there is a Marshmallow Cafe. 

Damn glad I was of it too.

Marshmallow Cafe? Pass. 

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