S'okay by Me if the S'mores Are Made Indoors
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
The graham cracker was invented as one of America's first health foods, but since at least the late 1920s, Americans have used it to sandwich layers of chocolate and toasted marshmallows to make s'mores.
The irony is not lost on me that a bland, no-frills cracker made with graham flour -- named after 19th-century health crusader Sylvester Graham, who advocated its high-fiber wheat component -- became the top and bottom of the classic, ooey-gooey campfire treat.
These days, though, we're just as likely to build them using the heat of a backyard grill or order a make-your-own dessert kit in a restaurant -- complete with mini-hibachi, sections of Hershey bars and white puffs with skewers at the ready.
The first written recipe for Some Mores appeared in a 1927 publication called "Tramping and Trailing With the Girl Scouts." Yevgeniya Gribov, archivist at the National Historic Preservation Center, Girl Scouts of the USA in New York, has furnished me with the original recipe, plus several later variations of Girl Scout s'mores, including one that called for slices of apple to replace the grahams and peanut butter to stand in for the chocolate.
I might not mind adding peanut butter or maybe even apple slices, but I am not about to subtract either graham crackers or slabs of chocolate from my s'mores, thank you.
The key s'mores elements were on hand much earlier than 1927, of course. By the late 1800s, confectioners had discovered how to make better-tasting, more economical (but less nutritious) marshmallows by substituting gelatin for the sap from the marshmallow plant. (It's a marsh-loving relative of the hollyhock.) In 1898, the National Biscuit Co. started distributing its graham crackers across the country. And in 1900, Milton S. Hershey developed his milk chocolate bar (for many decades, the usual choice for s'mores). Those ingredients were a great sweet treat just waiting to merge, though the big moment can't be pinpointed.
Nor is it clear when the name Some More was shortened -- though by the early 1960s, when I was a counselor in a Pennsylvania Girl Scout camp, we were definitely scarfing down "s'mores."
Whether a culinary trailblazing Girl Scout or the early Mallomar cookies or Moon Pies inspired the creation of s'mores, it's a sure bet that Graham, a minister, would not be pleased to see his legacy crackers keeping such sinful company. He was so convinced of the evils of pleasure and of stimulants such as tea, coffee and chocolate that he recommended cold showers, uncomfortable beds and a bland diet.
I'm happy to live in an enlightened age more tolerant of indulgence. Every now and then I hear those poor, plain grahams in my cupboard calling for attention, and I feel obliged to spiff them up with a mild, molten marshmallow (readied over a gas burner or in the microwave) and a slice of bold chocolate.
Lately, I've been experimenting with extra adornments and gourmet twists, and to that end, I suggest: Spread some good-quality seedless raspberry preserves on the graham cracker halves, then cover with halves of a premium bittersweet chocolate bar. I like to pair gianduia, or hazelnut-flavored bars, with the raspberry preserves. And treat yourself to a fresh box of honey grahams, my preferred s'mores base.
Nancy Baggett's latest cookbook is " The All-American Dessert Book" (Houghton-Mifflin, 2005).