Creating beauty from darkness: artisanal marshmallow biz springs up from Covid lockdown

by Lisa Butterworth | special to the COURIER

Walk by Lani Fox’s house on a typical day and you’ll likely find the south Claremont resident in her front yard harvesting fragrant basil from her garden beds, picking vibrantly colored pansies, or plucking passion fruit from fast-growing vines. These are just a few of the homegrown ingredients that come to life in Fox’s line of artisanal Rosemallows, handmade marshmallows featuring unique, locally sourced flavors.

Passersby are often the taste testers. “I try to be really welcoming,” Fox said. “I want community. If someone’s walking by or curious about the garden, I totally invite them in. I’m like ‘Hey, Amazon delivery guy! Come on in and try this, you’re going to like it.’”

Like many life-changing endeavors, the seed for Rosemallow was planted during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns, when Fox was spending all of her time at home with her husband Aaron and their two children. “I was cooking even more than normal, and I was trying to make things extra special for [the kids]. So, if they wanted something and we couldn’t get it at the store, I was making it. They wanted marshmallows; I couldn’t find them,” said Fox. “I had already been extracting my own vanilla, so I just made this plain, boring vanilla bean marshmallow, and it tasted divine.”

She began making marshmallows on a semi-regular basis. They were even the prime motivator when it came time to potty-train her youngest child, she relayed with a laugh. One day, Fox decided to get creative.

“With cooking, I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again,” she said. “I really like to have fun and experiment.” The result was a strawberry-honey marshmallow, topped with basil from her garden. She let the kids decorate it with swirls of pink and purple, then shared the delicious treat with friends. “It was just so beautiful and fun,” Fox said. “I was like, You know, I think I’m gonna start selling these.”

Fox is a geostatistician by trade, publishing scientific papers and working with universities on various projects, but she has always been an avid gardener, forager, and preserver. Her kitchen cabinets are stacked with jars of infused sugars, flavorful extractions, and homemade liqueurs. Her love for peak produce began in childhood. “When I was a little kid my dad and stepmom always had a vegetable garden,” Fox said. “I have a distinct memory of not liking tomatoes, but then eating a cherry tomato from our garden for the first time and being like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’”

It’s one of the reasons she uses only seasonal ingredients in her marshmallows and sources them as locally as possible. “I want the freshest stuff,” said Fox, who harvests many Rosemallow elements from her own garden, which boasts 10 fruit trees (including pomegranate, fig, and even a tropical ice cream bean tree), countless herbs, and edible flowers among its bounty. “It’s essentially like a tiny urban farm,” she said. If she doesn’t grow it herself, Fox turns to Claremont-based farming nonprofit Uncommon Good, or the farm store at Cal Poly Pomona, where her husband is an urban agriculture professor.

 

Lani Fox holds a tray of her artisanal marshmallows this week in her Claremont garden. Faced with requests from her kids for then unavailable marshmallows during the Covid lockdown, Fox made her own, and Rosemallows was born. COURIER photo/Matt Weinberger

 

“I’m really going for a bespoke experience,” Fox said. “I’m using real ingredients, so it’s like a journey. Something about the spun sugar allows the flavors to slowly reveal themselves.” Since she uses ingredients at the height of freshness, most Rosemallow flavors are temporary and seasonal. The Thanksgiving offerings included pecan bourbon pie and warm maple cinnamon. Highlights of the current winter menu are sugar plum (made with plums from Fox’s sister’s tree and topped with edible pansies and gold luster dust) and spiced apple cider, for which she uses apples from nearby Sage Mountain Farm.

Fox is also offering a festive alcohol-themed sampler for New Year’s fetes featuring cherry-cocoa cordial, spiced eggnog, and vanilla coffee liqueur, and mug toppers made especially for melting in a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

In addition to amping up flavors with unexpected combinations, Fox tries to make Rosemallows as dietarily inclusive as possible. Two members of her family have celiac disease, “so I know how important it is to be allergen friendly,” she said. When a Claremont customer told her of a canola allergy, she stopped using canola oil to grease the marshmallow pans. Her non-alcoholic flavors are made with halal gelatin, and she recently introduced a vegan option too. Each marshmallow looks like a tiny work of art, and every order is wrapped in compostable packaging, as sustainability is foundational to Fox’s business.

Fox officially launched Rosemallow in July with a post to Claremont Connects, inviting the Facebook group’s members to her front yard where her kids hosted a lemonade stand and she shared her creations with the public. Since then, she’s taken orders online at rosemallowartisanal.com, and has popped up at events like Cal Poly’s Pumpkin Fest preview night. Most recently she participated in the Claremont Educational Foundation’s annual Chocolate Walk in the Village, where, outside of gift shop Rio de Ojas, she passed out nearly 550 donated marshmallows to benefit arts, music, and technology in the Claremont Unified School District.

The Rosemallows themselves are truly a product of community. Past flavors have highlighted peaches and mandarins grown in the yards of Fox’s fellow south Claremont residents. And the marshmallows she made especially for the Chocolate Walk were inspired by the bounty of a neighbor. “One day she came by and was like, ‘I have so many Meyer lemons, I think you can figure out something to do with them!’” Fox recounted. The results were citrus-cocoa confections dusted with vanilla sugar and topped with lemon rind, and they were a hit.

“I never thought this is what I was going to be doing right now,” Fox said. “But sometimes you just happen upon something that’s so special, that no matter how crazy it sounds you just have to follow it. I feel like we all need beauty in our lives, don’t we?” She picked up a sparkling persimmon spice marshmallow swirled with vibrant orange streaks. “Covid was so dark that I want to just spread beauty in lots of different ways, and this is one of the ways.”

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