The History of S’mores
The making of the ultimate s'more with marshmallows, chocolate and graham cookies over a wood burning fire pit. (Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
As soon as warm weather hits, people gather around the bonfire for a relaxing evening with friends. The star of the bonfire is, of course, s’mores. Although s’mores may seem like a simple and humble treat, they actually have a long and interesting history. It may have started with a group of outdoorsy girls, but the ingredients date back hundreds of years. In fact, each of s’mores three ingredients each are reputed to have medicinal properties so we could consider our bonfire s’more to be a wholesome cocktail of goodness.
The Girl Scouts of America
The first time the recipe for s’mores appeared in print was in 1927 in a guidebook published the Girl Scouts of America called Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. This guidebook gave tips for spending time in the wilderness and included some recipes for food that can be prepared in the woods and cooked over an open campfire. Many years later, troop leader Loretta Scoot Crew was given the credit for the s’mores recipe, which called for 16 graham crackers, 16 marshmallows, and 8 bars of chocolate. According to the book, when you toast marshmallows until they are gooey and melty and place them between graham crackers and add a chocolate bar, you get a tasty treat that is so good you will want ‘some more.’
Not surprisingly, marshmallows originally came from a variety of mallow plant that grows in swamps or marches near salt water, hence it is known as a marshmallow. It was commonly found in Egypt and was exclusively used as a food of the Pharaohs and the royal families. The plant itself could reach up to four feet in height. The roots and leaves of this plant exude a gooey, gelatinous substance that the ancient Greeks used as an anti-inflammatory and to soothe irritated coughs. Hundreds of years later, a French candy maker used the mallow goo to make a sweet treat by adding sugar and eggs and formed them into small balls that one could easily pop into the mouth to calm a cough and soothe the throat. Eventually, the juicy mallow substance was replaced in the sweet treats with gelatin, which was more economical and less labor-intensive. The name marshmallow stuck, however.
Graham crackers are the most recent s’mores ingredient to hit the scene. It was developed in the early 1800s by Sylvester Graham, a minister from New Jersey who was committed to reversing the moral decline he observed in society. He had some pretty radical ideas for his day, including daily showers, drinking plenty of water, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and exercising every day. In addition to these concepts, which are now commonplace, Graham had some other, stranger ideas. He suggested people sleep on hard mattresses and with their bedroom windows open, and that each meal should be consumed with a cheerful attitude. He also believed that immoral sexual desire was linked to the foods that one ate, therefore he advocated for a bland, plain diet which he outlined in an 1847 document. He created a cookie that now bears his name, made from wheat bran, wheat germ, and finely-ground wheat flour.
Chocolate hails from Mesoamerica, dating back as far as 350 B.C. Derived from the cacao bean, the ancient Aztecs considered chocolate to be a gift of the Gods, specifically the god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. Such a high value was placed on the cacao seeds that they were used as currency. The Aztec made chocolate into a beverage that they drank to give them strength, but they did not explore other used for the delicacy. The cacao plant was brought to Europe from early explorers, including Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Conquistador Cortez. A group of Spanish friars were the first to experiment with different uses for chocolate and they added sugar and honey to it to sweeten the bitter taste. When they introduced it to the Spanish court, the ruling class loved it. Soon chocolate was a favorite treat all across Europe. Europeans discovered what the Aztecs knew…chocolate could invigorate you, help relieve constipation and cure a headache.
European chefs added cacao butter to the liquid chocolate and press it into molds to form bars. In 1893, an entrepreneur named Milton S. Hershey purchased a chocolate press left over from the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago and moved it to his factory in Pennsylvania where he began making his plain Hershey’s chocolate bars. Portable and easy to snap into pieces, the Hershey bar became a key ingredient in s’mores. It may not be the best chocolate in the world, but it is certainly among the best chocolates for s'mores, since they are very much an American tradition.
Today, we may look at s’more as a fun and simple treat that is easy to prepare while sitting around the bonfire, but each of the recipes three ingredients – marshmallows, Graham crackers, and chocolate – had earned reputations for providing health benefits to consumers long before the Girl Scouts of America united the three together in a tasty snack that leaves you asking for ‘some more.’
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