"who else would think to sandwich a fire-blistered marshmallow and a chocolate bar between graham crackers, creating a delicious but incredibly sticky mess? If that’s not American ingenuity I don’t know what is."
Lisa Bramen - the Smithsonian Magazine
Who else indeed? Having watched a program on television on advances in medicine, which last night featured a whole section on obesity, and then looking at this, one has to shake one's head in despair and say, 'no wonder'. One American writer thought that they would have to have been invented by a kid - and he could be right.
I came across s'mores yesterday when I was looking for traditional foods to eat on election night. This was the top of one list. And yes there is a National S'mores Day on August 10th (well maybe the nearest date to that weekend). Mind you if you look hard enough you can probably find a National Day for just about anything.
So what is it, where does it come from and why don't we do s'mores here? Well again, I think we do but on a much lesser scale. You can find recipes (it's not really a recipe), in Taste and delicious, but I don't think they are a real thing here. The Australians I think are more likely to just toast the marshmallows.
There are three components to s'mores, even though that article of the top 5 foods to eat on election night, said there were four. I think it must be a typo. The three components are marshmallows, chocolate and Graham Crackers - all products, as one writer said, of the Industrial revolution. Well on a commercial scale anyway. Marshmallow and chocolate go back to the ancient Egyptians and the ancient South Americans.
Marsh mallow is a plant - althaea officinalis - which has a rather lovely flower. But it's the root, and also the leaves that are important. From the ancient Egyptians on the juice from the root was used as a medicine to cure such things as a sore throat, as a laxative, and lots of other things. Isn't that interesting? Why would you think to squeeze the juice out of a pretty plant? Then the French made it into a sweet by beating the juice with sugar and eggs. But this took time and it was expensive, so only the rich indulged, until the Industrial revolution when gelatine was substituted for the juice and machines did all the work. So by Victorian times they were a cheap treat found in sweet shops. I don't remember eating them much in England, although that may have been because they were not a favourite of mine, but here in Australia they seem to be a campfire treat - the toasted version anyway.
According to the Smithsonian it's no easy matter to toast the perfect marshmallow:
"Achieving this is a delicate art: If you try to rush things by sticking the marshmallow directly into the fire and igniting it, all you’ll have is a charred sponge. If you leave it near the fire too long, or tilt it at the wrong angle, you risk having it slide right into the embers." Lisa Bramen - The Smithsonian Magazine
Apparently it is also best to toast it on something metal rather than wood although that's a bit unromantic somehow. A coat hanger is suggested - but really - a coat hanger? Considering that it is the Girl Scouts who are credited with the first recipe for s'mores, in a book called Tramping and Trailing With the Girl Scouts which was published in 1927, you'd have to wonder, wouldn't you, why they would have coat hangers when they were camping. They called them Some Mores, which obviously, over time got reduced to s'mores. Some Mores because they tasted so good that you had to have more.
Then there's the chocolate. Well we all know about chocolate. The recommended kind of course, is a Hershey's milk chocolate bar. Chocolate is ancient, and South American but it was the Americans who made it sweeter and industrialised, in the nineteenth century. Quickly taken up by others of course.
And the Graham Cracker? We don't have them here. Apparently the closest thing is a digestive biscuit, but it looks to me as they are somewhat thicker. Graham crackers are a thinner kind of biscuit made from whole wheat bran and named after its originator Sylvester Graham an ardent Presbyterian minister who thought that wholegrain would put you off sex. So there you have a weird, and very, very American mix of orgiastic pleasures such as marshmallows and chocolate, with something parsimonious, religious and prudish. So American.
And how do you put these three things together to make a s'more? First place a piece of milk chocolate on half a Graham cracker. Toast your marshmallow - you will find lots of advice on how to do this online - over a fire, under a grill, in a microwave ... Place your marshmallow on top of the chocolate and the other half of the cracker on top. Squeeze together and eat. Some say to assemble, wrap in foil and toast the whole thing but the purists abhor this method.
There are heaps of variations out there of course ranging from the silly - s'martini? to the gourmet - here are a few pictures I found online. Interestingly though, it was a very rare thing for the cracker part of the equation to be anything other than a Graham cracker. The chocolate often became chocolate mousse like things and various other things were put on top.
I can't say I have ever been much into marshmallows, but perhaps that's me. I don't think we ever thought of toasting them. Why not I wonder? Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Day and there will be bonfires all over Britain with people roasting chestnuts and potatoes in the fire. But not many marshmallows I suspect.