Where did s’mores come from? The answer involves the Girl Scouts, a Wikipedia hoax, and the Father of American Vegetarianism.
We know they’re called s’mores because they’re so good, you always want “some more” of them. But who actually invented everyone’s favorite campfire treat?
S’mores were most likely invented in the 1920s by Girl Scout troops at Camp Andree Clark in upstate New York. As reported in the Norwalk Hour in September 1925, the Girl Scouts shared a treat called “Some-Mores” with each other that “consist of a graham cracker on which is placed a piece of Hershey chocolate, a toasted marshmallow, another piece of chocolate and a graham cracker.” Other sources shows that the Camp Fire Girls (a girls’ organization formed two years before the Girl Scouts) began to enjoy s’mores around the same time.
Another early source for a s’mores recipe is a 1927 official Girl Scouts guidebook called Tramping and Trailing With the Girl Scouts. The guidebook included a recipe for “Some Mores,” and, similar to the description in the Norwalk newspaper, they haven’t changed a bit since then—a marshmallow toasted over a campfire is sandwiched with some Hershey’s chocolate between two graham crackers, allowing the heat of the marshmallow to melt the chocolate. Of this gooey, sweet snack, the guidebook remarks, “Though it tastes like ‘some more’ one is really enough.”
The identity of the author of the recipe, however, is contested. The guidebook does not list an author, but in 2009, a troop leader by the name Loretta Scott Crew was credited for the recipe on Wikipedia. There is reason to believe her name was invented as a hoax to test the trust of the internet in Wikipedia, the result being that an erroneous attribution is still circulated to this day.
Experimental young girls were not the only ones to combine graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate—various mass-produced treats included all three elements before the Girl Scouts even existed. Nabisco’s Mallomar, dating from 1913, was a round graham cracker topped with a marshmallow and covered in dark chocolate, and the MoonPie of 1917 was a palm-sized graham cracker and marshmallow sandwich dipped in chocolate.
But before that . . .
You may have heard of the marshmallow plant. It looks something like this:
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is an herb has been used for thousands of years as an herbal remedy for sore throats, indigestion, and pain relief. It is native to the marshes of Europe and Asia. In Ancient Greece, China, and Rome, the marshmallow plant was used for food and medicinal purposes. In Egypt, marshmallow sap was combined with honey, producing a candy reserved for the gods and rulers. The root of the plant was also boiled with sugar to release the root sap until it thickened, then strained and cooled to make “suckets,” which were like cough drops.
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the French whipped up a light, airy confection using marshmallow sap, egg whites, and sugar purely for enjoyment. These were expensive to make and reserved only for the upper classes. But soon, the marshmallow sap was replaced with gelatin to produce a cheaper version that was still light and fluffy. (In case you’re wondering, modern marshmallows are made with corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, and preservatives.)
The idea of roasting marshmallows over a campfire came about in the 1890s. It became very popular in the beach towns of the Northeast, where marshmallow roasting parties were held at summer resorts. This was seen as a trendy, novel way to flirt and connect with people over a delicious treat that tasted like a “sublimated combination of candy and cake” (as reported in a letter from Asbury Park, New Jersey). This was also “an excellent medium for flirtation” when a young person ate a marshmallow off a potential suitor’s stick.
Graham crackers, on the other hand, were intended to be quite the opposite. Sylvester Graham, who invented the graham cracker in the mid-1800s, was a firm supporter of the temperance movement and believed that his crackers would suppress sexual desire. He was an adherent to a school of thought that claimed minimizing pleasure and stimulation of all kinds was the surest path to good health. Along with graham crackers, he and his followers—the Grahamites—ate a steady, bland diet of graham flour and graham bread and led one of the first vegetarian movements in the United States. Graham was known as the Father of Vegetarianism in America.
Some of this may seem laughable in the face of modern science, but Graham had many things right—he was a proponent of regular exercise, clean water, and preventive care, as well as being one of the first to suggest that stress causes disease.
Convinced that commercial bakeries were adding unhealthy ingredients to their products (and rightly so—there were few food regulations at the time), Graham promoted his crackers made with only coarse-ground wheat, oil, molasses, and salt (no sugar allowed). After he died, sugar was added to graham crackers for mass production—right around the time the marshmallow was gaining popularity.
This deserves a post of its own. Suffice it to say that “the Great American Chocolate Bar” made its debut in 1900 and has never looked back. With all the ingredients in place and available to the masses, the time was ripe to combine them into a delicious new treat.
Today, thanks to the endless creativity of ordinary people and the instant sharing of ideas through the interwebz, there are many different ways to eat s’mores. Swap out plain milk chocolate for white chocolate or a Reese’s cup or a Ghiradelli raspberry dark chocolate square. Use chocolate graham crackers or Oreos or pretzels. Make things a little saucier by adding peanut butter, caramel, lemon curd, or Nutella or into the mix. Or add strawberries, banana slices, or even bacon for a unique spin on the standard s’more.
“One is really enough,” but with so many variations, how could you stop at just one?
Cronkelton, Emily, “Everything You Need to Know about Marshmallow Root.” Healthline, March 19, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/marshmallow-root#side-effects-and-risks.
Food Timelines. Food Timeline FAQs: Candy. https://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcandy.html#marshmallowroasts.
Gentile, Jessica. “If You Love S’mores, You Have the Girl Scouts to Thank.” Chowhound, August 10, 2020. https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/205847/the-history-of-smores/.
Kelly, Debra. “Where Does the Term S’mores Come From?” Mashed, November 8, 2016. https://www.mashed.com/30437/term-smores-come/.
“Marshmallow Roasts are the Fad.” Asbury Park, New Jersey, letter in the New York World and Chicago Daily Tribune, August 8, 1892 (p. 6). Retrieved from https://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcandy.html#marshmallowroasts.
Roberts, Anna Monette. “If You Were a Girl Scout, You’ll Be Proud of This.” Popsugar, August 10, 2015. https://www.popsugar.com/food/Who-Invented-Smores-38029222.
Rupp, Rebecca. “The Gooey Story of S’mores.” National Geographic, August 14, 2015. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/the-gooey-story-of-smores.
Tramping and Trailing With the Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts of the United States of America, 1927, p. 63.
Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Loretta Scott Crew. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Loretta_Scott_Crew.
Wikipedia. “Graham Cracker.” Retrieved September 2, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_cracker.