The Happy Camper: History of the S’more

Kevin Callan discusses the history of everybody's favourite campsite treat - the s'more.

Credit: Kevin Callan

At times, making dessert seems too time consuming. It’s not.

Don’t fall into the routine of handing out chocolate bars to everyone to munch on around the campfire. That’s not dessert. Besides, desserts can be quite simple to make. Fresh fruit covered in melted chocolate or even caramel pudding served with a shot of Grand Marnier is better than a stale cookie. Just look at the history of the s’more. Since it’s creation, camping has definitely stepped up a notch.

S’mores have been a camp tradition ever since the recipe first appeared in the 1927 edition of the Girl Scout handbook: Tramping and Trailing. And there’s no doubt why it was given its name — short for “some more.” Think about it. Kids get to pierce a sugary marshmallow with a stick, hold it over the campfire until it ignites, then squish it between two chunks of chocolate and two Graham crackers (some campers have been known to toss the crackers).

Similar to most recipes, the s’more wasn’t completely original. Products with a comparable recipe (marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers) entered the market place prior to the Girl Scout manual. Moon Pies were introduced in 1917 and Mallomars were on the store shelves as early as 1913.

Marshmallows, the key ingredient to a s’more, have an even longer history. Egyptians would squeeze the sweet sap from the mallow plant growing in wild marshes and add honey for flavor. By the mid-1800s the treat had reached France when owners of a small candy store whipped, sweetened and molded the gummy sap.

It didn’t take long for the natural mallow to be replaced by gelatin and modified cornstarch. In 1948 a marshmallow manufacture, Alex Doumark, had the idea of pushing the sticky substance through a long pipe and cut it to the shape we’re used to seeing. A couple years later some other manufacture had the idea of injecting air, giving the marshmallow its fluffy, light texture.

To date no one seems to know who actually started the act of toasting a marshmallow over a campfire and transforming the white spongy puff into a burned carbon shell with a sticky, tongue-burning centre. It was probably some camp councilor that couldn’t stand baking up another can of pork and beans. But it’s in the United States where most are now consumed — 90 million pounds per year to be exact. The majority of those consumers are — no surprise — under the age of twelve. It seems the older one gets, the less inviting toasting a marshmallow becomes. Most adults, 56 per cent in fact, prefer eating it raw. Truth is, parents secretly despise them; and they especially loathe the making of s’mores on camping trips. The problem is that the gooey mess will undoubtedly get all over the kid’s clothes, making them bear bait for the rest of the evening.