Have you found the time this summer to get out to the woods and make yourself a s’more? In honor of National S’mores Day, here’s the story of how they were invented, along with some background on some of the essential ingredients for the mighty s’more.
It’s not like one person put chocolate and roasted marshmallows between two graham crackers, held a press conference, and announced their concoction to an appreciative world. Food historians say it likely became a popular campfire treat when the modern idea of recreational camping first took off in the 1920s. The first published recipe for s’mores reflects that notion: Credited to Girl Scout leader Loretta Scott Crew, her instructions for the by then common “some mores” were included in the 1927 book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. (And yes, they were called “some mores” because few people can stop themselves at just one.)
Marshmallows are even older than that half a bag of marshmallows you’ve got in your pantry left over from when you made Rice Krispies Treats a few months ago. They date to ancient Egypt, where they started as the sticky sap of the mallow plant mixed with honey and nuts for a sweet and gooey treat. Europeans still made them that way until the 19th century which is when confectioners in France replaced the honey and nuts with sugar and egg whites. These marshmallows became extremely popular in Europe and the U.S., leading candy makers to replace the final original ingredient—out went the mallow and in came cheaper and more plentiful gelatin. Eventually the sugar got replaced with corn syrup, completing the evolution of the modern marshmallow.
The graham cracker is a unique concoction: sweet like a cookie (but not too sweet) and flat and crunchy like a cracker. Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham invented the first iteration of the graham cracker in the early 1800s, a ready-to-eat, easy-to-make staple that featured prominently in what became known as “The Graham Diet.” His graham cracker consisted of unbleached flour, wheat germ, and wheat bran. Decades later, sugar and spices were added because the Graham Diet forbade those things…along with meat and white flour. Graham advocated eating like this as a way to eradicate lust and “impure thoughts.”