Why you should care
Because summer never has to end.
The United States has made many valuable and memorable contributions to society, and you could argue for days about which is the most important. Make a case, if you like, for the lightning rod, the transistor, the stove, the Roomba. But you’d be 100 percent wrong. The country’s legacy rests with the chocolate-marshmallow-graham-cracker treat that makes mouths water and minds wax nostalgic for childhood pleasures: the humble s’more.
Nothing captures the taste of summer, and specifically American summer, awash in the scent of woodsmoke drifting from bonfires and the sound of a thousand guitars playing Eric Clapton songs, like the s’more. Since moving to Europe, I’ve attempted to spread the gospel, roasting marshmallows over barbecues on London decks and over tiny, lopsided Paris hot plates, subbing in European chocolate for the customary Hershey’s, experimenting with variations by region like adding peanut butter, chevre or a bit of fig jam to the traditional combination. “An open fire is fun, but not necessary,” says Sarah Siebold, founder of the S’more Bakery, a Los Angeles company that ships s’mores flavored with vanilla bean, salted caramel or clover honey — starting at $7 per package — around the country. Because they have to be shipped, Siebold’s s’mores leave the roasting up to the recipient — toaster ovens, she says, are a popular tool.
If you grew up in America with an outdoorsy family, the iconic treat is “bound to carry special meaning.”
Today’s gourmet versions, like those from Portland, Oregon, street cart and catering company Nineteen27 S’mores, tend toward the handmade and local. There are 20 different flavors of homemade marshmallow available in Nineteen27’s signature delicacies. Elise Kelly, who runs the company with her husband, James, argues that the s’more is making a comeback. Why? The nostalgia factor, for one. If you grew up in America with an outdoorsy family, the iconic treat is “bound to carry special meaning,” Kelly says, as well as memories of heading into the wilderness on a family camping vacation.
But if you’re living outside North America and hoping for a taste of home, you might be out of luck. The foundation ingredient, graham crackers — those crisp, slightly honeyed biscuits, originally invented by a reverend who thought he could end the scourge of masturbation in young people by feeding them bland, unstimulating food — are difficult to find in Europe. There’s just no suitable substitute. Those of us living away have to depend on imports or care packages from home. At least the chocolate offerings in other countries are a step up from the wet-sawdust taste of Hershey’s.
It seems insane to say any dessert is more iconically American than the apple pie. The s’more, which dates only to the 1920s, is a latecomer even for a relatively young nation like the U.S. And it’s decidedly undainty, designed to create a sticky, gooey mess that’s anathema to many of the Europeans I’ve forced into trying them, as well as anyone at a campfire without a nearby tap in which to wash their hands. But in its slapdash simplicity, the s’more — best made outdoors, in true frontier fashion — may be the best, sweetest ambassador any of us could ask for.