LYNN — When Liz McNeil was growing up in Hyde Park in the 1980s, her mother was very strict about the food she fed her children. Then one day, she broke down and bought some Fluff, which meant McNeil could finally bring a Fluffernutter to school, just like the other kids at St. Anne’s.
“My sister and I were so excited,” McNeil said, until they got to lunch, and found out they didn’t know the Fluffernutter rules.
“The other kids were like, ‘Durr, you’re supposed to have a Fluffernutter on Wonder Bread, not wheat bread. Nice try.’ ”
Now, with the likely demise of Hostess, the maker of Wonder Bread, many see a threat to the authentic Fluffernutter, an iconic part of many a New England childhood, as familiar, and easy to make, as a PB&J: marshmallow creme on one slice of bread, peanut butter on the other, then squish.
The only official ingredient is Fluff, the airy concoction that was invented in Somerville and has been manufactured by Durkee-Mower in Lynn since 1920. The term Fluffernutter was coined in 1960 by an ad agency hired by the company, and as the old jingle began, “Oh you need Fluff, Fluff, Fluff, to make a Fluffernutter.”
But certain Fluffernutter nutters argue this: Without Wonder Bread, you can’t make an authentic Fluffernutter.
“I am distressed about this, because Wonder Bread is an essential part of the classic Fluffernutter,” said Kathi-Anne Reinstein, a state representative from Revere who is a devout fan of the sandwich and has taken to social media to lament the loss of Wonder Bread. “It will still taste pretty good on other bread, but it won’t be the complete package. The mushy Wonder Bread was what mixed it all together.”
Durkee-Mower, the company that whips up the sticky concoction of corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white, and vanilla flavoring in an old two-story factory in Lynn, remains officially agnostic about the bread. “The only thing we say is that it should be white bread,” said Jon Durkee, the third generation of his family to manage the Fluff empire. (The company provides Stop & Shop white bread in the employee break room so that its staff of 22 can enjoy a Fluffernutter.)
Durkee-Mower, and many others, say that the other authentic ingredient that makes it a New England sandwich is not Wonder Bread, but Teddie Peanut Butter, which has been manufactured just down the road in Everett since 1925.
But Wonder Bread, the thinking goes, forced its way into the equation long ago, not because it is local, but because it is generic and nostalgic and cheap, the thing you brought back from the corner store when your mother sent you for milk and a loaf of bread. By sheer ubiquity, it became part of the flavor memory for many, just the right glob of gooey goodness to create the mouth-clogging mess that can be loosed only by a glass of milk.
Local passions for the Fluffernutter became national news several years ago, when Jarrett Barrios, then a state senator from Cambridge, proposed limiting the use of Fluff in schools, saying he was “not sure we should even be calling it a food.” Reinstein, whose district includes the Fluff factory, fired back with a call to make the Fluffernutter the official state sandwich.
Each was the victim of the easy joke that fluff is a term for an inconsequential piece of legislation. (It’s also a term for an inconsequential piece of journalism.) Neither proposal went anywhere, and there was speculation that Barrios hurt himself politically by getting on the wrong side of a local icon. When contacted by a Globe reporter recently, Barrios, who is now the chief executive of the Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, said “I love Fluffernutters,” then rushed the reporter off the phone.
Each fall in Somerville, the city celebrates the life of Archibald Query, a local man who invented the formula for Fluff in 1917, with the “What the Fluff” festival. Mimi Graney, the festival’s organizer, said that although they make their Fluffernutters on “whatever is on sale at Market Basket,” she is well aware of the Wonder Bread purists. “It fits with the nostalgia, the old-timey feel of a Fluffernutter,” she said. “Everyone can remember the back of that Wonder Bread truck going around with the girl eating the sandwich.”
One year, during a Fluffernutter eating contest at the festival, they used artisanal bread donated by a local baker, and “we nearly killed a few of the contestants,” according to Mike Katz, who portrays Archibald Query at the festival. “Unfortunately, it does have to be made on cheap bread, or they can’t swallow it.”
‘It will still taste pretty good on other bread, but it won’t be the complete package.’
There are, of course, many Fluffernutter fans who despise Wonder Bread, and soft white bread in general. Durkee-Mower said it gets many complaints from customers who say white bread tears apart when they try to spread the Fluff. (They advise using ample amounts, or heating the Fluff in a microwave for 15 seconds.) And others say the authentic New England childhood experience was about finding any way to get it into your mouth.
“I’ve had Fluffernutters on a spoon, Fluffernutters on saltines, Fluffernutters on pita bread,” said Bill Mann, a financial analyst in New York who grew up in Andover. “You don’t need Wonder Bread or any of that fancy stuff. Or maybe I was neglected or something.”
When Rick Linnehan, a NASA astronaut who grew up in Lowell, brought Fluff into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008, he enjoyed his Fluffernutter on a tortilla. “I’ve never been a Wonder Bread guy,” he said, and you can’t bring bread into space anyway : at zero gravity, crumbs become more than just a nuisance.
But the Wonder Bread contingent says the details are critical to the authenticity, the way purists rail against pink Red Sox hats and forced Boston accents in movies. And until the Hostess brands are bought and revived — something that is widely expected — the hard-liners believe that the true Fluffernutter experience is unavailable to them.
Or there is always eBay, which is now home to a hot market in Hostess junk food nostalgia. You can buy lots of Twinkies and Devil Dogs and those cupcakes with the swirly frosting on top.
And, if you dare, you can buy a loaf of Wonder Bread. It will cost you $20. Mushiness included.Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.