Saturday, 28 January 2012

Elephant No. 118: Rice Krispies Treats

A few people have suggested that I make a Rice Krispies elephant, so today I thought I'd give it a try.

Rice Krispies were created in 1927 by Clayton Rindlisbacher for the Kellogg's company of Battle Creek, Michigan, U.S.A., and made their public debut a year later. Known as "Rice Bubbles" in Australia and New Zealand, Rice Krispies are made of a rice-and-sugar paste that is formed into rice shapes, then cooked, dried and toasted. As the mixture cooks, it expands, forming thin, bubbled walls. When the cereal is subjected to any change in heat, the walls often collapse, resulting in the trademark "Snap, crackle, pop" sound. The sound is particularly noticeable when milk is added, and is spelled out in different ways on packaging around the world:

English: Snap! Crackle! Pop!
French Canada: Cric! Crac! Croc!
Mexico and Spain: Pim! Pam! Pum!
Finland: Riks! Raks! Poks!
Sweden: Piff! Paff! Puff!
The Netherlands and South Africa: Pif! Paf! Pof!
Germany: Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!

Vintage Rice Krispies box, pre-Snap! Crackle! Pop!
Photo: Grosscha
Collection of the Michigan Historical Museum, Lansing, U.S.A.

The elves that adorn the box today were created in the 1930s by well-known illustrator Vernon Grant. After hearing a radio advertisement for Rice Krispies in 1932, Grant developed the Snap! character, and took it to Kellogg's. The company loved it, and Snap! first appeared on a package of Kellogg's Rice Bubbles in 1933. Crackle! and Pop! arrived later, and since 1939 all three have been featured together in various forms of advertising, including radio, television, film shorts, comic strips, and of course, packaging. The characters first appeared on television in 1960, and the Rolling Stones actually recorded a short song for a Rice Krispies television ad in 1963. You can see the rather bizarre spot here.

Rice Krispies treats were invented in 1941 by Kellogg's employee Mildred Day, who published the original recipe for a Camp Fire Girls bake sale. The recipe for basic Rice Krispies treats has remained unchanged for the past 70 years, and is still made with butter or margarine, melted marshmallows, and Rice Krispies. There are also innumerable variations on the basic recipe around the world, including the addition of everything from hazelnut spread and peppermint candy, to chocolate and dried fruit.

For today's elephant, I used the basic recipe that is printed on pretty much every box of Rice Krispies. I used the stovetop instructions, but the box usually contains microwave instructions as well.

Rice Krispies Treats

1/4 cup (60 ml) butter or margarine
40 regular marshmallows, or 5 cups mini-marshmallows (or a 250 g package of either)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) vanilla or other flavouring
6 cups (1.5 l) Rice Krispies

1. Melt butter or margarine on stovetop.
2. Put marshmallows in pan and melt with butter or margarine.
3. When marshmallows are fully melted, blend in flavouring.
4. Add Rice Krispies and stir well to ensure that the cereal is fully coated with the marshmallow mixture.
5. Turn into a large pan to cool.

This was very easy to make, taking all of about half an hour—most of which was spent waiting for the marshmallows to melt.

I let it cool almost completely before starting to play with it. The colder it is, the better it holds together; however, the warmer it is, the easier it is to mould, so it's a bit of a toss-up.

I started by making a small body shape.

Then I added on four legs. The mixture sticks to itself quite readily, so all you need to do is form whatever shapes you like, and press them onto existing parts.

Next I added a head with trunk, then a pair of ears.

This took me about five minutes, so I turned my attention to the remaining mixture—and there was a lot of it. If you want to make something small, or only one or two shapes, cut the recipe in half, or even in four.

I made three more full elephants, each of which took about the same amount of time. The thing I didn't much like was the way their heads kept drooping and attempting to fall off.

The whole head-falling-off thing made me decide that I was done with making elephants. And pretty much done with Rice Krispies treats, since I've never liked the taste anyway. I decided instead to use the rest of the mixture to make a big elephant head. The trunk and ears were what kept trying to fall off on this one.

I used the little bit that was left to make a small elephant head. The trunk drooped and flattened out almost immediately.

Aside from the propensity of gravity to wreak havoc with various parts of these elephants, this is actually a rather interesting medium. Because the individual Rice Krispies squish and crush so readily into the marshmallow mixture, it's easy to create the shape you want—including, in this case, thin tails and points on tusks.

The main drawback is the marshmallow "glue". If I were to attempt moulding with Rice Krispies again, I think I would try adding something like corn syrup and cooking it a bit longer to create a stiffer adhesive. The only problem then would be working fast enough to keep it from hardening before you're done. And you'd have to handle it while it was pretty warm, so it wouldn't be something to do with children.

In the end, this wasn't hard, wasn't time-consuming, and was interesting as a sculptural medium. Just don't ask me to eat them.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although water buffalo are usually used to plough rice paddies across Asia, the Karen tribe of northern Thailand uses elephants. The Karen have used elephants in farming for centuries, largely because the land in their tribal areas is too hard and too tough for water buffalo. This makes the elephant ideal.

Elephants ploughing rice paddy in northern Thailand.
Photo: C. Smith

Although the Karen now often keep working elephants in enclosures, they used to capture elephants from the forests for use only during the ploughing season, releasing them back into the wild as soon as they were no longer needed.

Elephants ploughing rice paddy in northern Thailand.
Photo: C. Smith

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 
Elephants Without Borders

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