Ask anyone about their favorite campfire treat and you can anticipate the answer will pretty much be unanimous.
OK—maybe hot dogs or burgers (and who just said blunts?) for adults. But if you can remember your childhood or have to lug around kids on outings, you know the response: s’mores—the marriage of graham crackers, chocolate and roasted marshmallows that help young people endure the whole outdoors experience.
The mere mention of s’mores brings a smile to faces. It seems just about everyone remembers the first time they were introduced to the treat. For Susan Carter, owner of The Perfect Crumb bakery on Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey, it was at a Girl Scouts event.
“After that, every camping trip we always had s’mores,” she recalls. “And you can’t have just one.”
She credits the popularity of s’mores to the combination—that earthy malt of the cracker, the pleasant richness of chocolate and the bittersweet edge that a roaring blaze brings to the marshmallow. It all works in blissful harmony. Throw in the joy of the setting, the fun of assembling the s’more and the answer to this week’s Burning Question is settled.
“It’s like a hot dog,” Carter says. “It’s an all-American food.”
But there are some warnings, particularly for those of us who took a troubling pleasure in thrusting marshmallows directly into the flame. Carter looks for a golden brown, so she recommends a low and slow approach, with the stick angled well above the heat.
“You have to have patience,” she explains.
Adventurous sorts bring peanut butter, jam or other fillings into the s’mores mix. And recipes—you need a recipe for s’mores?—also include versions that ditch the graham cracker in favor of chocolate chip or other cookies, while others swap in chocolate or cinnamon flavored crackers.
Faith Durand, writing for Kitchn, offers up a salty caramel and bacon s’more (we’ve already proven in this space that bacon makes everything better), a strawberry banana s’more, something called The Elvis and one that probably wouldn’t inspire childhood memories involving tomatoes, basil and mozzarella between wheat crackers.
Yeah. But it’s better than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture came up with. Replacing marshmallows with low-fat yogurt and chocolate with fruit? Gah.
If all this seems too difficult, Asilomar Hotel & Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove reportedly sells s'mores kits at Phoebe's Cafe for guests to purchase. Blue Aces Bake Shoppe in Salinas has in the past offered s'mores bars. Meanwhile, Carter suggests sticking with the basics or ramping it up with creamy peanut butter, but no more. She’s a good person. She even whips up a s’mores-style cupcake for the shop, so adults can indulge in a little dessert nostalgia.
Yep—scouting, family, cupcakes, the innocence of youth and days gone by. S’mores belong in a Norman Rockwell painting.
Look into the history of s’mores and words that would have broken Rockwell’s faith in a good, decent America and sent him on a lurid pulp fiction book cover art binge. Phrases like “carnal desire” and “open flirtation” sully the background of this campfire favorite. “Laxative” is another that sort of takes the fun out of things. Fetid French swamps don’t sound too enjoyable, either.
And that’s just when you read up on marshmallows and graham crackers. Add chocolate into the mix and you have to reckon with Conquistadors.
What the hell?
To start with, the guy who created graham crackers had some serious issues. In a Food & Wine article, Matt Blitz points out that Sylvester Graham—a Presbyterian minister in New Jersey—thought couples in the early 1800s were getting a little too loose with their petticoats and britches. And because of this, the world had lost its moral purpose and was on the verge of collapse.
Graham singled out fine dining—hell, he also pointed the finger at peasant dishes—as the cause of this rampant obsession with sex. I mean, some couples were going at it 10 or 20 times a year. And, as he wrote, a nice steak dinner and a glass of wine revs up “the concupiscent excitability...of the genital organs.”
That’s why steakhouses thoughtfully drape the table with long tablecloths.
He was convinced that anything other than a plant-based diet would lead to—and this is from Atlas Obscura—”wet dreams, sex outside of marriage, sex with marriage but without the intention of procreation and, most dreaded of all, masturbation.” It would all culminate in ’70s porn accompanied by bom-chicka-wha-wha music.
OK—he didn’t believe that last bit, at least as far as we know.
Anyway, a meat-free diet and whole grain breads. That was his solution to moral decay.
Hey—Sylvester Graham and the Impossible Burger. Making America great again...although, to be honest, the Impossible Burger is good and may be capable of spreading concupiscent excitability. Graham devised instead a dull, crumbly, almost flavorless unseasoned cracker. Just the thing to ensure listless genitals.
Fortunately, the recipe changed over time. But the tale of the graham cracker is one steeped in some rather sordid stuff.
As for the marshmallow, well, that where the fetid French swamp comes in.
Actually, the marshmallow plant—generally found in swampy areas—had been used since ancient times to produce medicinal salves and cough drops, although some used it as a laxative. According to Rebecca Rupp in National Geographic, the French were the first to whip up the plant’s sap into a foam that would hold like meringue, using sugar and egg whites.
By the late 1800s, gelatin—a much less expensive and time consuming product—had replaced marshmallow in marshmallows, allowing common folk to indulge. Good old fashioned marshmallow roasts became a thing.
An item appearing in the August 8, 1892 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune that began as a New York World wire story pointed out that, “The simplicity of this form of amusement is particularly charming. One buys two or three pounds of marshmallows, invites half a dozen friends, and that is all the preparation required.” The story—surprisingly only page six material—goes on to suggest “Marshmallow roasts are an excellent medium for flirtation...appropriately exhibited by nibbling the marshmallows of each other's sticks. Accordingly the idea is sure to grow in favor.”
No way Graham would have approved of the pairing of this lustful stuff and his pure crackers.
While we know the origins of chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers, the first s’more has eluded archaeologists who dig into matter. The Mallomar and Moon Pie preceded the s’more and may have inspired the treat. Or it could have been the other way around. No one really knows.
The only thing we have to go on is the first extant published recipe for something called "Some More" in the 1927 classic Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
That’s a guess, since no author is listed.
But the guidebook gets one thing horribly wrong. “Though it tastes like ‘some more’ one is really enough,” it reads.
Oh—Why bring up a summertime staple so early in April?
When our prompt, proper and gracious newsroom staff gathered recently to hold yet another civil discussion of story ideas in the Weekly’s handsomely appointed conference room, the subject of s’mores came up.
The annual Summer Activities Guide publishes next week, so the matter was not out of line—although it did rather disrupt the meeting when someone (not saying who) used that as an excuse to leave in search of s’mores-flavored cocktails.