Offbeat Adventure

The History of the S'more Is Fairly Recent, Despite Its Ancient Ingredients

There is nothing — nothing — as agonizing as sitting in an office and having to investigate the crunchy, gooey, chocolatey origins of the hands-down best-ever campfire treat: the s'more. They just aren't the same when you make them over an office kitchen stove. Well, we'll soldier on for you, dear reader. The inimitable s'more has some surprising origins that we're sure you'll want to know about.

Ye Olde "Some More"

Okay, so they're not that old. But that's sort of odd, considering that the ingredients that comprise them have all been around for quite some time. Sure, graham crackers weren't invented until the late 1800s, but people have been eating biscuits and crackers for centuries. Chocolate is much older — people have been cultivating and consuming cacao since at least 1400 B.C.E. Believe it or not, marshmallows might be the oldest of all, dating back to the Egyptian pharaohs of 2000 B.C.E. And we're not positive, but we're pretty sure that campfires are a little bit older than the 19th century as well.

So if all the ingredients were basically there the whole time, then why did it take so long to figure out that the three ingredients were a match made in heaven? It's a matter of innovations made little by little until finally the stars aligned and a recipe for "Some Mores" appeared in a 1927 Girl Scouts Handbook. Let's take a closer look at how these three key ingredients transformed during the industrial revolution and changed camping forever.

Marshmallows

Plump, white, and perfectly puffed, marshmallows might be one of the most unnatural-looking foods ever. But believe it or not, ancient Greeks made a sweet treat from a plant of the same name. A marsh plant, in fact. Marshmallow roots are packed with a delicious sap, and confections using the substance would be prescribed to help a sore throat. In the 1850s, French chefs used the same stuff to create something closer to what we would recognize today, but it was still a labor-intensive process. Only when companies began to replace the actual marshmallow with (meat-based) gelatin were puffy white marshmallows able to be produced en masse.

Chocolate Bars

In the early days of cacao cultivation — that is to say, for the first 3.5 millennia of its four-millennia existence — the beans were revered as divine by various Mesoamerican peoples and made into a bitter beverage drunk during important rituals. Europeans, starting with Hernán Cortés, couldn't really stomach it until they added honey or cane sugar. But it wasn't until the 1800s that chocolatiers in general, and milk chocolate inventor Daniel Peter specifically, developed the technology to reduce the fat content of the cocoa powder and allow it to congeal into a solid with incorporated milk and sugar.

Graham Crackers

Graham crackers are by far the youngest item on the list, and arguably the one missing ingredient that prevented the s'more from being invented earlier (although if you put chocolate and marshmallow on any other mildly sweet cookie, we're pretty sure the effect would be just as enchanting). Still, they probably have the most interesting backstory.

Sylvester Graham (1794–1851) was quite a character — an eccentric Presbyterian minister who believed lustful thoughts and sexual excess to be the chief malady of the body and soul. Pretty normal so far, right? Well, Graham believed that those thoughts could only be quelled by a strict vegetarian diet with lots of fiber and unsifted wheat flour. He actually developed quite a following, with health communes opening in New York and Boston for people intrigued by his ideas.

Whether or not Graham himself invented the graham cracker is a matter of debate, but recipes for the treats began showing up in cookbooks in 1882, 31 years after his death. If they weren't originally created by Graham himself, then they certainly earned his name by sticking to his whole wheat flour ideology. Modern graham crackers are nothing like Graham's original incarnation, however: They use bleached white flour, not to mention plenty of sugar and honey.

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For more campfire treats, check out Emma Frisch's unique cookbook, "Feast by Firelight: Simple Recipes for Camping, Cabins, and the Great Outdoors." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

S'mores Made Better With Bacon

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 31, 2018