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Reprint from the Santa Cruz Sentinel - September 26,2001

Gimme S’more: Gooey history of our favorite campfire treat


Special to the Sentinel

Here’s the real fluff about marshmallows, sung to the tune of "Row Row Your Boat":

"Roast roast roast your marshmallow, over the open fire..

lightly toast ’em, scorch ’em, burn ’em, then we’ll have s’more. YUM!"

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of roasting marshmallows over the campfire came from?

The original marshmallows were a confection created by mixing the mucilaginous goo from the center of the marsh mallow plant (Althaea officinalis) with sugar or honey.

This species of plant is native to Europe, but now grows on the East Coast, from Long Island south, presumably imported by European immigrants.

The folks at Jet Puffed Marshmallows claim that the sweet originated with the Egyptians. Yet others believe it was first enjoyed by the Romans.

Whatever you believe, the primitive marshmallow was around for a long time before it evolved in late 1800s France as a fancy, handmade candy.

In the early 20th century, the French version of the confection arrived in the United States and was popularized here.

The marshmallow was mass produced in the early part of the century by many different companies, using an extrusion method which revolutionized the marshmallow manufacturing process.

At this point, the structural component of these fluffy wonders was replaced by gelatin.

Today, marshmallows are produced by only three companies, and none of them use mallow.

Ingredients of modern marshmallows: Corn syrup, sugar dextrose, food starch (corn), water, gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, artificial and natural flavor, artificial color (Blue 1).


Who started the tradition of roasting them on the fire?

No one seems to know. But the popularity of the tradition can be attributed to the fact that it is sanctioned fire play for children!

(Incidentally, people who claim to prefer them black, are covering for their inability to achieve the uniform brown toasting of the perfect marshmallow.)

Any good Girl Scout can tell you that S’mores stands for "some-mores" (as in "gimmesome-more").

From Jason Seremak, the historian for the Girl Scouts of America, I learned that the origin of this popular campfire dessert was unclear, but the first recorded version of the recipe can be found in the Girl Scout Handbook of 1927.

You’ll see that the recipe has not changed since it was introduced. But if you do a quick Internet search, you can find thousands of make-at-home variations, including several recipes published in Gourmet magazine.

Nothing compares with tradition. The fact that the marshmallow always fails to melt the chocolate as promised doesn’t seem to stop anyone from making the attempt.


8 sticks for toasting the marshmallows

16 graham crackers

8 bars plain chocolate (any of the good plain brands broken in two)

16 marshmallows

Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crispy gooey state. Then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich.

The heat of the marshmallow between the halves of chocolate bar will melt the chocolate bar a bit. Though it tastes like "some more," one is really enough.

Makes 8 servings.

(From "Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts," Girl Scouts of the USA, 1927)

Although its origin remains a mystery, the tradition of roasting marshmallows over the campfire has become synonymous with relaxation in the American vernacular. So sit back, relax and roast a few.

Kim Baker is a state park Ranger at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.


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