Foodways: Re-Discovering the S’more

by Valerie Sink
# 2002-012

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The tradition of the Girl Scout s’more has been passed from mother to daughter, leader to Girl Scout, since it first appeared in the Girl Scout handbook in 1927. Although variations of the recipe are numerous, for the Girl Scout, this delightful confection made of graham cracker, toasted marshmallow, and chocolate has remained essentially unchanged.

S’mores are about eating and fun. But they are also about taking risks and gaining confidence as girls handle a flaming marshmallow torch and alone decide when it should be extinguished. Confidence and independence are as much a part of the tradition of Scouting as is the s’more.

Fieldwork and Analysis

I arranged to meet with Junior Girl Scout Troop 2512 on February 20th to discuss my assignment – discovering these Girl Scouts’ favorite food. I briefly considered interviewing and taping our conversation at this meeting, however, my years as a Girl Scout leader told me that this would not be a good idea. First, the girls tend to be reticent with strangers and I wanted them to be open with me. Second, I needed their parents’ permission to tape our interview and I didn’t have it yet. So, at this first meeting, I introduced myself and got acquainted with girls. I already knew two of the four. Sara had been a Brownie in my troop for three years. I also knew Erin from a prior camping trip (She and Sara ‘stole’ my underwear and ran it up the flagpole in time for Sunday morning’s flag ceremony at last year’s Girl Scout encampment ). These two knew me well enough. They were also two of the most outspoken girls. I did not know Katie prior to this meeting; Kristie was not present at this meeting but was at the meeting two weeks later on March 6th when I actually taped our discussion.

My interest in this topic stems from my fifteen-year involvement with the Girl Scouts, first as a leader, then as adviser and advocate. I became a leader in 1985 when my own daughter wanted to become a Brownie Girl Scout at the age of six. Although I no longer have my own troop, I remain closely tied to the Girl Scout community. I still camp with the Girl Scouts at their yearly encampment each spring.

In just two days, I, along with scores of mother-leaders and daughter-Scouts will carry sleeping bags and tents to a shaded site in the woods where there is no pavement, but only pine needles forming a soft blanket on the earth; we’ll go to a place where the only sound to wake us is the lonely call of the mourning dove. Television is replaced by the sight of a doe gently nudging her fawn or the discovery of a cow nursing her newborn calf. Computer games are forgotten; instead girls learn the names of plants and trees as they touch the rough bark of an oak and smooth leaves of the tulip poplar. During the day we will hike the trails and sweat under the hot sun; we will splash in the creek and perhaps ‘accidentally’ fall in; and, when the ‘day is done, when the sun is gone from the lake, from the hill and from the sky’ we will quietly gather at the fire circle under a canopy of stars, forgetting the mosquito bites that cover our weary legs. From the recesses of our collective memories we will sing the songs sung only at the campfire. We will ceremoniously light the fire. Enchanted by its glow and in its embers we will once again delight in making and eating the Girl Scouts’ traditional dessert - the s’more.

Ingredients: Simple as One, Two, Three?

The tradition of s’mores has survived with three simple ingredients –marshmallow, graham cracker and chocolate. The marshmallow is placed on a stick, held over the fire and toasted to a golden brown or, for some, a luscious black. The gooey marshmallow is then placed on waiting graham cracker topped with squares of milk chocolate and is covered with yet another graham cracker. The marshmallow oozes out of all four sides and sticks to the fingers and lips as the last morsel is eaten. As its name implies it makes you want ‘some more’ but few can eat more than one.

MS (Mrs. Sink): How do you like your marshmallow cooked?
Erin: Mushy on the outside, normal inside.
Sara: Light brown.
Katie: Burnt to a crisp.

I, too, like my marshmallows burnt to a crisp. I put my marshmallows right into the fire until it becomes a flaming torch. I then lift it, ever so carefully, and extinguish the flame with one hearty breath. It is an art to get the hot marshmallow to the waiting graham cracker before it drops off of its stick onto the ground.

S’mores are not just about eating. They’re also about identification with a tradition shared by millions of girls and handed down from generation to generation. Although much has changed in Girl Scouting since it began in 1912, our identification with the s’more as a unique part of Girl Scouting remains the same. The girls I interviewed spoke about their association with Scouting when discussing s’mores even before they discussed the food itself.

MS: Why do Girl Scouts eat s’mores?
Sara: Because it’s what Girl Scouts do. All Girl Scouts eat s’mores.

Oftentimes, tradition is viewed as a practice that does not change. As part of my research, I explored the changes in the ingredients themselves. Two of the three ingredients, the marshmallow and the graham cracker, were originally health foods.

The Marsh Mallow

MS: Did you know, by the way, that marshmallow can be made? There’s a recipe for marshmallow?
Sara: Neato.
MS: I suppose it must be because somebody made it; there’s gelatin and…

Katie: What’s gelatin?
MS: The stuff Jell-O is made of but it’s plain.
Sara: How nasty.
Erin: Cool.

The marsh mallow [Althaea officinalis] plant is indigenous to marshy areas in Europe, Asia and North Africa and was originally used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans to treat diseases. Even today, the marsh mallow plant is used to treat such illnesses as bronchitis, pneumonia, and ulcers (Leonard).

The sap from the root of the marsh mallow was the original source of the confection we know as the marshmallow. As far back as 2000 BC, Egyptians combined the mallow root with honey and reserved this candy for the gods and royalty. Modern marshmallows were first made in France around 1850 by boiling pieces of the marsh mallow root pulp with sugar. The root sap acted as a binding agent for the other ingredients: egg whites, corn syrup, and water. This mixture was heated and poured into cornstarch in small molds, forming the marshmallows. The mucilaginous sap of the mallow root has since been replaced by plain gelatin and, by 1900, marshmallows were being mass-produced (“Marshmallows”).

MS: So, what we have in front of us is two different packages of marshmallows and some marshmallow crème. Now, these are Campfire? marshmallows; they’re the more expensive brand. This other is the generic brand. It is going to be less expensive per marshmallow. You can see the bag is smaller but, per marshmallow, it’s cheaper. Then we have marshmallow crème.
Sara: Oh, oh, you do not use marshmallow crème. That’s just wrong and that’s disgusting.
MS: Anybody for marshmallow crème?
Erin: My sister ate a whole one of those.
Sara: That’s wrong! Okay? (Sara is speaking of including marshmallow crème in a s’more; she’s not passing judgment on Erin’s sister).
MS: Katie, what do you think?
Katie: No. No, you can’t use marshmallow crème.
MS: Kristie? Marshmallow crème?
Kristie: No.

The girls were not brand-name conscious when it comes to their marshmallows – either Campfire® or the grocery store’s generic brand was acceptable. However, the miniature marshmallows were not popular for obvious reasons. It’s a little difficult to get them on the stick.

Sara: It {the size} really doesn’t matter. But they gotta be big, not little small ones.
MS: So you can’t have the miniature marshmallows?
Sara: Yeah, you need big marshmallows.
Erin: You would choose really, really fat marshmallows.
MS: Really fat marshmallows.
Erin: Yeah.

Graham Crackers and Chocolate

I came to the interview with three different types of graham crackers: regular honey grahams, cinnamon graham crackers and low-fat honey grahams. These girls were not interested at all in the low-fat graham cracker – it was too healthy. I also brought a box of Carr’s® Whole Wheat Crackers.

Sara: You do not - never, ever - use low-fat. That is just wrong. When you’re eating s’mores you’re eating chocolate and marshmallows, which are fattening. So why would you worry about the low-fat graham cracker?
{You should} use regular.
MS: Erin, what do you think?
Erin: No low fat because we’re kids and we can get as fat as we want.
MS: Okay
Katie: Want my opinion?
MS: Mmm hmmm.
Katie: I think you can use either cinnamon crisp or honey but you couldn’t use low fat.
MS: Okay. Interesting. I thought that you would allow the low fat but that’s fine. How about these whole-wheat crackers?
Katie: No. Nuh uh. No way. Nasty.
Sara: It is better to use honey graham crackers.
MS: All right. Let me read the ingredients.
(Reading from the graham cracker box) Whole grain wheat flour. (Reading from Carr’s® Whole Wheat Crackers) and the first ingredient on this is wheat flour. You think they’re probably similar?
Sara: No.
Erin: No, because I think that one has more wheat; well it looks ‘wheaty’. And those {graham crackers} have a better flavor to it.

MS: All right. So, there we go. The Carr’s® Whole Wheat Crackers do not make the cut.

In the early 1800’s, Presbyterian minister and health lecturer, Sylvester Graham, was concerned about the diet of Americans, which consisted mainly of meat and white bread made with refined flour. Graham promoted the high fiber content of un-sifted and coarsely ground wheat flour and in 1829, he invented the cracker that bears his name. His concern for the health of his fellow Americans did not concern these Girl Scouts.


Anecdotal evidence supports the theory that chocolate is a vegetable, a derivative of the cacao bean. Since the Department of Agriculture recommends three to six servings of vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet, it could be argued that the s’more is a health food. There is no scholarly evidence to substantiate this claim, however, chocolate remains a favorite ingredient in the s’more.

When I asked the troop about the kind of chocolate used in making the s’more, they agreed it had to be Hershey®’s. It could be the 1.55 ounce milk chocolate bar or a large four-ounce block size but miniature-size chocolates or the Hershey®’s Kiss were not sanctioned by this group.
Sara: In s’mores you should have Hershey’s chocolate, not any other kind of chocolate.

MS: Hershey’s. No other kind, huh? How about this? (holding up a 4 ounce block of Hershey®’s chocolate) This is a big one.
Sara: It doesn’t really matter the size. It just matters that you {use) Hershey’s chocolate.(
Katie points to the large block size Hershey® and the small Hershey® bar)
Katie: Is there a difference between these two?
MS: Yes there is (holding up a six pack of Hershey® bars). This is what your leaders bring - a six-pack or several six packs depending on how many girls you’ve got in the troop. Can you eat chocolate before you go to bed?
(girls giggle)
All, in unison: Yes!
(I open the package and distribute all of the Hershey® bars.)
MS: Oops. Well, we now have no more chocolate bars…because we’re eating them.Katie: You have one more.
MS: …except we have the large Hershey’s bar. It is a 4 oz block. Kristie? What do you think? Can we substitute this instead of that in your s’more?
Kristie: Yes.
MS: How about you Katie? What do you think?
Katie: Yes, but you couldn’t use the little ones. Like the little individual square ones.
MS: Okay. So we can have the thicker kind.
Katie: Uh huh.
MS: What do you think, Erin? Yes or no?
Erin: Uh huh.
MS: All right. Everybody…and Sara, you think so?
Sara: I think all it needs to be is Hershey’s. It doesn’t matter the size.
MS: What if you took a Hershey’s Kiss and stuffed it inside a marshmallow and put it over the fire and this would toast and …Sara, I’m getting …what kind of look am I getting? …ooo, that’s a real sour look with a mouthful of chocolate; you don’t like that idea?
Sara: See, if you melt the chocolate all over the marshmallow, you’re not going to get the marshmallow taste.
MS: Okay.
Sara: If you put a cooked marshmallow, like light brown on chocolate, it’s going to melt it very little and it’s going to give you just the right taste.
MS: Okay. What do you think Katie?
Katie: I think that is a ‘no-no’.
MS: Why is it a ‘no-no’? Who made the rule? Where is the s’more law?
Sara: It’s tradition.

Risk, Control and Confidence

Fire is an essential ingredient for making s’mores. Elizabeth Adler, in her essay, “Creative Eating: The Oreo Syndrome” discusses how risk, as well as play and games with food, are a part of growing up (9). Because of required adult supervision, risks are greatly minimized for Girl Scouts, especially when it comes to fire building. However, through game playing, the girls learn to build a fire and to control their fear of it. First girls learn to build an edible fire using pretzel sticks for an A-frame, the foundation of the fire; shredded coconut is added for tinder; small tootsie rolls become logs; a piece of licorice serves as the match and red hot candies sprinkled on top become the flame. Each girl fills a Dixie® cup with water - a reminder that a water bucket is always needed at every real fire. The edible fire also includes a plastic fork to rake out highly flammable leaves. As the girls consume the fire, they are reminded that all fires must be completely extinguished.

When real matches are used, the risk becomes greater. In a more serious game (in a closely supervised setting), girls are taught to light a match. Erin recalls last year’s encampment where one of the activities was fire building; her mother was responsible for treating all ailments that weekend, including the little fingers that held onto the match just a bit too long.

Erin: A lot of people got burned.
Karen: Well none of you guys did.
Erin: No, but a lot. My mom was {the first aider}.
Karen, their leader, reminds them that, as a result of their having learned to build a fire, they are able to cook on their own.
Karen: But that’s the point; so you all did it - you all have done it. But when we go camping and cook out you’ve done it then too.

Through various games, girls learn to respect, but not fear fire. As they learn to control the elements they become both confident and independent. I asked the girls to close their eyes for a few minutes and to recall their most recent camping experience, to hear, see, smell and recall the campfire. They spoke of it without fear. They are twelve, after all, and have been building fires now for several Girl Scout years.

MS: Katie, tell me about the fire.
Katie: It was big and it was all ‘crackly’.
MS: Who builds the fire?
Katie: I think, well, the Girl Scouts collected all the wood. And then older Girl Scouts put it all together.
MS: Aren’t you the ‘older’ Girl Scouts?
(I turn to Karen, the leader) Do you not let them play with fire?
Sara (Karen’s daughter): At home she does.
Karen: (protesting) You’re allowed to build the fire; (to me) not all troops do. But these guys do.
Sara: They don’t let us at encampment because they think we’re too small.
Karen: Now, last year at encampment one of your activities was fire building.
Sara: It was?
Erin: Oh, wow! Everyone does that.
Sara: You mean that thing where I taught how to use matches…
Karen: Uh huh.

Social Skills

The dessert’s name implies that we want ‘some more’. But do we? On every camping trip at least one girl asks, “Are we having s’mores?” The question is, of course, rhetorical. When we’re camping, there is never a time when there are not s’mores. But no one has ever asked, “Did you bring enough so we can all have ‘some more’?”

In her essay, “Rhetoric of Portions” Amy Shuman discusses such social skills as ‘Who gets the last bite?’ ‘Do you leave a little on the plate?’ ‘Do you eat the whole thing?’ She discusses those unstated rules of how we determine what is and is not socially acceptable. “Food apportionment,” says Shuman, “is almost always embellished with questions of etiquette, perceptions of social hierarchy, and a variety of rules of conduct” (72).
Interestingly, these girls raised the topic of social skills during my interview with them. At encampment they are sometimes grouped with two or three other troops, often with girls they don’t know, and must be mindful that they are not the center of the universe as they might be in another setting. It’s not unusual to have a few leftover marshmallows; more often than not there is half of a Hershey®’s candy bar left and maybe a graham cracker or two. These girls are sensitive to the fact that they are older and are expected treat the younger girls as they would guests in their homes.

Sara: Sometimes {at} encampments you’re put in certain areas and in that certain area you all get in big groups and you cook s’mores. We did that. Last year we were with another Girl Scout…three Girl Scout troops…
Katie: Two.
Sara: No, that one was combined.
Erin: Yeah.
Sara: There were two Girl Scout troops and we all made s’mores. The younger kids got them {first} and the older kids got them last. You know because {we} could actually wait and be mature.
MS: Now, the book (I’m reading to them from the 1954 Girl Scout handbook) says you get one marshmallow. I have never had a s’more without two marshmallows. There must be two marshmallows. What do you think?

Sara: Oh, I only had it with one!
MS: Kristie, one marshmallow or two?
Kristie: I don’t care.
MS: You don’t care. How about you Katie?
Katie: I’ve always had it with just one.
MS: Just one?
Katie: Uh huh.
MS: They’re stingy. How about you?
Erin: Just one. I never thought you could stick two on.
Katie: Yeah, I know.
MS: Well, I’m the leader. I guess I was the only one that was getting two.
Sara: The leaders are allowed to do that without the kids going, “Arrgh! you shouldn’t be doing that!”

This troop has learned two important social skills. First, the more mature you are, the longer you have to wait for your s’more; and second, leftovers belong to the leader.

Variations and Changing Tradition

Although we think of the s’more with three ingredients: the marshmallow, graham cracker and chocolate, there have been several variations to the basic recipe. The earliest recipe known to the Girl Scouts did not specify any particular type of chocolate, only chocolate squares (Baker). In the 1954 Girl Scout Handbook, the recipe for ‘Some Mores’ suggested several substitutes for chocolate, among them apple or pineapple slices.

MS: Katie, will you read the recipe for us?
Read the ingredients first.
Kristie: “Four squares plain chocolate.
Then two graham crackers.
And one marshmallow.”
Erin: What was the first ingredient?
Kristie and Katie: Four squares plain chocolate.
Kristie: “Toast a marshmallow slowly over coals until brown . Put chocolate on graham cracker then the toasted marshmallow on top; then another graham cracker. Press gently together and eat. Makes you want ‘some more’.”
MS: Now, read the next piece.
Kristie: “This recipe may be varied by using slices of apple cut crosswise or by using pineapple slices or peanut butter in place of chocolate” (280-1).
MS: What do you think girls? It’s written in the Girl Scout handbook. Now, tell me about tradition.
Sara: S’mores are like something you’re doing like when you’re camping; you’re active and fattening foods is something you can eat then ‘cause you’re active and they’re really good and like a lot a time at home you can’t eat fattening foods and this is free fun time and it’s really good and fun and you get to enjoy this time and it’s for you and others, so it’s supposed to be something like fattening and yummy and…
MS: And you don’t want anything healthy in your diet (big laugh) when you go camping…like pineapple. Okay. Yeah, Erin?
Erin: Maybe if you’re on a diet and you really like s’mores…
(Erin implies that someone might be willing to substitute pineapple or apples for chocolate).
MS: So, tradition dictates what we can do, but Katie, you said we could change things. Sometimes traditions change. What traditions are you willing to change?
Katie: Well, I don’t usually change traditions, but I just know that some traditions –like, people change it.

In my experience, neither apple nor pineapple has survived as a s’more ingredient. However, there have been other, more subtle changes to the tradition of the s’more. For example, the way we roast (or is it toast?) a marshmallow has changed. In my camping days in the late ‘50’s, a green stick cut from a small tree would have sufficed for the toasting of the marshmallow; and you had to be really good at picking out just the right branch or your stick would burn right along with the marshmallow. This troop, however, didn’t like the idea of using a ‘real’ stick for many reasons. Store-bought dowel rods are now preferred.

MS: Let’s talk about utensils when we are making our s’mores.
Erin: You use your fingers, except when you’re on the fire. {You} use a stick.

MS: Do you cut a branch off of a tree?
All: (a resounding) Nooooo.
MS: Why not?
Erin: Because it’s dirty.

Kristie: And could be mold{y}.
Sara: If it’s not green it might burn on the fire.
MS: How about if you just take an axe and you go up to a tree and you cut off some sticks?
Katie: I say ‘no’ because also there could be like bugs in it.
MS: Any other reasons?
Erin: You don’t know what’s been on a tree.
Sara: Well, you can use wooden sticks that you get from a hardware store. That’s the best thing to use.
MS: Okay.
Katie: Oh, I have something. When you cut down the tree you’re kind of hurting…like you’re ruining the tree.
MS: I knew you’d bring that up.
Sara: Oh, I can’t believe I forgot that!
MS: I knew you would remember it.

Outside of Girl Scouting there are numerous variations of the s’more recipe. Restaurateurs with new recipes capitalize on the nostalgia of former Scouts who recall the delectable dessert from their scouting days but can’t quite remember what it was that made it so special. In these newer recipes, marshmallow is almost always made from scratch though, thankfully, no one is still making it from the root of the mallow. On the Epicurious Food File Web page, several s’more recipes, along with the restaurants from which they originate, can be found. At the Anago restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts, ‘S ‘mores a la Anago’ are made with vanilla and chocolate cream instead of Hershey®’s chocolate and marshmallow. ‘S’mores Napolean’ from Prego Italian Restaurant in Houston, Texas substitutes a mixture of white chocolate and whipping cream for marshmallow. In a California restaurant, The French Laundry, various types of chocolate such as Valrhona, Cacao du Barry and Callebaut are recommended in their ‘Campfire S’mores’. And in a New York City restaurant, 27 Standard, the ‘Grown Ups S’more’ is made with frozen cocoa mousse and malt sauce.

When a marshmallow is toasted over an electric burner or worse yet, in the microwave, essential ingredients are missing: the hike on the trail, the hot sun, the cool breeze, the ceremonial lighting of the campfire, the blanket of stars, and even the mosquito bites. Absent from the restaurant table and the home kitchen are the songs, the magic, the collective voices of generations of Girl Scouts as they recall their day and gather around the campfire.

For the girls in Troop 2512, the original s’more recipe is the most enduring.
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 (Baker).


The tradition of the s’more has endured, not only because it is delicious, but also, as Elizabeth Adler suggests, it allows young girls to take risks and to play games with their food. Risks, game playing, social skills, confidence and independence are all part of the tradition of Girl Scouting. For Troop 2512, the s’more is one of the many traditions that identify them as Girl Scouts.

Works Cited

Adler, Elizabeth. “Creative Eating: The Oreo Syndrome.” Foodways and Eating Habits:
Directions for Research
. Ed.: Michael Owen Jones. California: California Folklore
Society, 1983. 4 – 10.

Baker, Kimberly. “Gimme S’more: Gooey History of our Favorite Campfire Treat.”
Santa Cruz Sentinel. Sept 26 2001. 28 Apr. 2002

Epicurious: The World’s Greatest Recipe Collection. The S’more the Merrier. Riffs on
the Childhood Classic. 28 Apr. 2002

---.Classic S’more from the Girl Scouts 28 Apr. 2002

---.Campfire S’mores at the French Laundry 28 Apr. 2002

---.The Grown-Up S’more 28 Apr. 2002

---.S’more Napoleon. 28 Apr. 2002

---. S’Mores Al la Anago 28 Apr. 2002

Girl Scout Handbook. Girl Scouts of the USA. New York: 1954.

Girl Scout Troop 2512. Personal Interview. 20 February and 6 March, 2002.

How Products are Made. eds. Krapp & Longe. Volume 3. (276-277).
The Food Timeline. 27 Apr. 2002. “Marshmallows.” 28 Apr. 2002

Leonard, David. Medicine at your Feet. 28 Apr. 2002

Shuman, Amy. “Rhetoric of Portions.” Foodways and Eating Habits: Directions for
. Ed.: Michael Owen Jones. California: California Folklore Society, 1983.
72 – 80.

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