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I do a fair amount of nostalgia-focused eating, especially when it comes to desserts. I want to relive the sugar rushes and unbridled delights of my childhood, the truest appreciation of food, the first tastes of wonderful things.
In my investigations for The Dish, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in this quest: I am thrilled that bright, inventive chefs, cooks and confectioners all over Dublin are taking delicious items from the sugary selection box of the ’90s and taking them up a notch or two, or three – or ten.
Combining complex flavour profiles with the form of old-school treats is increasingly popular – and may be the key to bringing exciting tastes to Dublin eaters of all ages.
We’ve done souped-up doughnuts, hypersweet cups of tea with candies at the bottom, and sambos full of French fries and silken, almost caramelized pulled pork. Now let’s talk marshmallows.
I’m all about marshmallows. The Flump, for me, is a serious cornerstone of ’90s nostalgic eating. As a sticky faced child, I was obsessed with them – long, soft marshmallow rope, braided a twist, pastel pink, baby blue, white and peach. A helix of pure sugar, the kind that leaves your teeth almost chalky.
This kind of hit is something I have far, far lower tolerance for now that my palette craves vinegar and citrus and heat, rather than unadulterated candy. As a teenager, during my initial, tentative excursions into Dublin’s first-wave coffee shops – specifically, the long-gone Coffee Society of Liffey Street – the barista who remembered me would always give me an extra heap of marshmallows under the mostly deflated crown of whipped cream on my hot chocolate.
I was only in it for the marshmallows, and would eat them with a plastic spoon as they melted, later abandoning the watery cocoa, satisfied enough. Marshmallows hid themselves in Kimberly biscuits, ran arteries in pints of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food – they were never the centerpiece, always just a feature, a streak, a topping.
Enter Derval Mellett, who is placing the marshmallow centre stage with her handcrafted, artisanal treats at Delish Melish. We talk over brews and donuts at Vice Coffee, both of us just post a stint at Electric Picnic.
Mellett had been serving hungry festival-goers her pastel rainbow of treats, as well as Chocolate-Digestive S’mores and her Electric Mess – crumbled meringue with fresh yoghurt and strawberries.
It was there in the Farmer’s Market at the Mindfield arena that I got to sample some of her menu: square, diddy marshmallows flavoured with raspberry and gin, passionfruit and coconut, beetroot and lime, as well as gently coloured teardrop meringues in lavender and rose-pistachio, around the size of your palm. It was as though Barratt’s Flumps grew up and went to art college.
Mellett returned to Ireland after almost a decade in London, working as a stage actress. From Ophelia to a confectioner, she has the quiet, sincere confidence of someone who absolutely doesn’t play any part by half. With her she brought the seed of a great idea. Like many of her contemporaries in the Dublin food scene, she saw and tasted something different and new abroad, and brought it home to Irish soil, to an excellent reception.
I ask her about the range of flavours she has explored. What she tells me is more than surprising. Pumpkin, with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, strawberry and basil, avocado and lime, brown bread. The marshmallow it seems, becomes a blank canvas – and cooperates with a really diverse array of tastes. ‘They take on so much,’ she emphasizes.
Subverting a traditionally sweet morsel like a marshmallow with a savory streak isn’t that new – think of the now commonplace sea-salt ice cream, or chili and chocolate – but the earthy tones Mellett is approaching with some of these flavours are really something different.
The beetroot-and-lime marshmallow has a really earthy flavour, but the brightness of the lime cuts through that depth and transforms it completely. Mellett is very passionate about using whole ingredients. She explains that she blitzes a whole beet with some lime zest and lime juice – and that that gives the marshmallow all the flavour it needs. It also gives it a deep pink colour, completely organically.
Mellett notes that avoiding unnatural additives creates some challenges. For example, without them, the shelf lives of her products are limited. But she explains that she believes people just want to understand what’s written on the back of the packet – and she won’t sacrifice that integrity for a longer shelf life.
Mellett is truly a foodie at heart. She jokes that she often finds herself asking people about their top five eating experiences. She lists destination restaurants around Ireland and London that she loves, and speaks passionately about the camaraderie and support she has found in the market and food community in Dublin.
She points out that the tastes being explored and the moves being made in the markets here in Ireland are just the same as what’s going on in London – we’re not behind, we’re exactly up to pace. I agree. Many of the third-wave artisan coffee shops offering unusual brews and pastries that litter Broadway Market in London wouldn’t be out of place on Camden Street or Baggot Street.
I ask her if there’s any flavour she finds Irish eaters aren’t wild about. She thinks a moment, then points out that coconut seems to be very love-hate. She’s right, it’s a very dominating flavour and an unusual texture. I propose that this might be a nostalgia issue again, that this distaste could be something that originated early for many of us.
Rose and lavender can also be surprising tastes. Floral palettes can seem soapy or dissonant to some, and to others are aromatic and sweet. Mellett’s personal favourite is peanut butter and dark chocolate. It was her first flavour.
She includes whatever she comes upon as she shops – sometimes it’ll be Maltesers, if they catch her eye. The rhubarb for her rhubarb-and-vanilla marshmallows was grown at the bottom of her garden.
This can all seem fairly pretentious, but discussing taste and flavour in earnestness and with genuine curiosity about how people eat and how people experience food is vital. Mindful eating – experiencing unusual and unorthodox dishes and tastes – is tied to healthy eating. Slow, considered consumption of organic and handcrafted food might seem like a hipster affectation, but the opposite is fast, uninterested eating – convenience food.
“Everyone has to eat, so why not eat as well and diversely as you can?” Mellett asks. She has an excellent point. Delish Melish’s marshmallows might be composed, essentially, of sugar and water and gelatin – but, Mellett further points out, you’re not going to want twenty of them. They’re not that kind of sweet. They’re an individual moment, a tiny experience.
She notes that the gelatin isn’t vegetarian and mentions using seaweed as an alternative – though that would turn the marshmallow into something completely different. I’d eat a seaweed marshmallow, for sure – and it’s clear that Mellett has made leaps and bounds towards turning the marshmallow into something completely different already.
Delish Melish can be found at Terenure Village Market in Bushy Park every Saturday, and Farmleigh Market every Sunday in September and then the first Sunday of every month. Derval takes orders via delishmelish.com. Take a peek at her Instagram, too – it’s a sweet, pastel feast for the eyes.