“What the Fluff?”, this year’s edition of Somerville’s Fluff Festival, was one of the strangest events I have ever attended in my entire life.
The first thing I saw as I entered a crowded Union Square Saturday was a woman wearing a dress made to resemble a jar of marshmallow fluff, flailing to the jams of local musician Lilla. I waited five minutes for the woman to stop, but ended up deciding to ask her about her experience at the festival, as she continued to dance. She then yelped, “I love Fluff!” and continued to flail away.
This was the tenth anniversary of the festival, which celebrates the 1917 invention of Marshmallow Fluff in Somerville. Despite its official name, the festival was concurrently dubbed “Fluff X,” “Fluff Festival,” “Fluffstival” and more, depending on whose sign you read.
The disparity of names belied the communal nature of the festival. A host to restaurants, caterers, home cooks, artists and Somerville businesses, the festival seemed independent of any organizers. It was an event that would continue on annually regardless of any particular organization.
“Everybody grew up with Fluffernutters,” said Allison Garber, a Somerville native, referring to the peanut butter and Fluff sandwich favorite. “It’s a New England thing.”
She told me that I might just not get it, as a non-native in Boston. And she was right. For most of my life, Fluff was one of those products at the supermarket that I never bought, mostly because its existence is perplexing. Isn’t fluff just what happens inside a roasted marshmallow?
In the Northeast, however, marshmallow creme is ubiquitous. There are other brands, but locals feel a certain loyalty to their hometown hero, Canadian-born Somerville resident and Fluff inventor Archibald Query.
“What the Fluff?” had its own version of Query in Mike Katz, who, once a year, brings the confectioner to zany, bearded life.
“For a lot of people, Archibald Query is the reason they come,” said Brett Tinney, of Boston. “He’s like a mix between a clown and those presidential impersonators in Las Vegas.”
Katz spent his time as Query entertaining everyone, but he also helped decide who would win the award for best original Fluff recipe. Most booths and tents had their own attempt at anything from fried Fluffernutters to Fluff ice cream and cupcakes. For a strange sugary spread, Fluff is surprisingly versatile, and the year’s best original recipe went to the Holiday Inn for their Guinness stout with Fluff buttercream.
The gooey spread even had its day in local politics once. In 2006, Massachusetts State Sen. Jarrett Barrios proposed a restriction on the weekly servings of Fluffernutter sandwiches in an attempt to limit junk food in schools. That same year, Massachusetts State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein of Revere planned to introduce a bill making the Fluffernutter the official state sandwich of Massachusetts.
“The Kerfluffle!” Garber said, laughing, when asked about the standoff. “They wrote about it in the paper and everything. It was a big deal.”
The festival’s inundation of the word “Fluff,” let alone the gooey spread, was enough to induce sugar headaches. Fluff’s capacity for semantic infection is astounding. All around, people turned the word into a verb, an adjective and probably entirely new parts of speech.
“Fluff you, get the fluff over here, fluff fluff fluff.”
People love saying it as much as they love eating it.
After an afternoon spent eating foods that bent over backwards to include Fluff and playing carnival games where the players literally bent over backwards to eat it, ordering a combo platter from an Indian restaurant in Union Square was a genuine relief.
Yet, while savoring my saag paneer and tikka masala, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they’d be good with Fluff. And maybe we’ll find out next year.