Have Some More

     Okay, I’ll say it out loud and get it over with.  I have never, in all my life, eaten a genuine S’More.  First off, a REAL S’More must apparently be cooked over an open fire, preferably on a camping trip, and camping trips were not part of my childhood.  (My mother, offspring of a Boy Scout Leader and a Girl Scout Leader did so much camping in her childhood that she swore off it once she was old enough to decline.)  My mother DID indulge us in letting us toast marshmallows over candles, but we may never have had the other two ingredients required.

     The S’More is a folk recipe, invented, it seems, by Boy Scouts.  Anyway, the first S’Mores recipe, which called them “Graham Cracker Sandwiches” and was published in an undated booklet from Campfire Marshmallows in the 1920s, attributes the recipe to Boy Scout tradition.  (S’Mores must be considered a Great American Recipe since it consists of three ingredients, all primarily available as packaged foods: marshmallows, graham crackers, and candy bars.  And how much of a coincidence is the name of the fine old marshmallow company that first printed the recipe?)

     Half the fun in a lot of folk recipes is the occasion, the gathering, the whole process of making the recipe (a fact apparently lost on all the S’Mores cereals, candy bars, and other products which have emerged during the current burst of popularity.)  The ingredients were handy and somebody who was having fun decided to play around with them.  Who DID first toss a slice of cheese on a hot hamburger: some tired cook in a diner or some goofball kidding around at a campfire?

     Consider, for example, what my piano teacher called “Stomach Ache Medicine” (she called it that because it was guaranteed to give you a stomach ache; must’ve been a family joke.)  This was a personal recipe for a snack food with origins lost in the ists of time.  It started with corporate marketing, but then what?

     Breakfast cereal was a new and radical idea at the turn of the last century.  Breakfast was supposed to be a leisurely meal involving appetizers, main courses, and sides, as well as dessert.  A farm breakfast might include potatoes, pancakes, fried meat or one or three kinds, and pie for dessert.  It was the health food folks who started suggesting a hearty bowl of cereal with toast and orange juice instead.  Breakfast cereal was invented about the same time as modern marketing, and the rest is history.

     But corporate America did not become what it is today without hedging its bets.  Cold cereal (also marketed as ready-to-eat cereal because, unlike oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, it required no cooking) was marketed for other purposes as well.  I stare at the advertisements showing people serving a side dish at dinner composed of a large Shredded Wheat biscuit covered with gravy.  The custom of topping casseroles with crushed Corn Flakes must date from around the same time.

     But someone discovered a box of cereal also provided a ready snack: the only thing in the kitchen, once upon a time, which was just “Open and Eat”, without even having to add a plate.  Since breakfast cereal in those days was largely unflavored, though, it did lack a little something.  So someone, realizing the difference between Puffed Rice and popcorn was just one of perception, started heating it up with a coating of butter and whatever seasonings were desired.

      Corporate America caught on to this, and at some point in the early 1950s, Ralston began printing a recipe for “Party Mix” on the sides of its Wheat Chex and Corn Chex boxes.  They pushed this so well (besides having a cereal that worked very well with the recipe), that the result became known as Chex Mix.  That poor, deprived generation had to make its own batches though, using their own or Ralston’s recipe, because it was not until the 1980s that somebody said “Hey, why not sell it pre-packaged?  That might cut back on sale of cereal, but it’s all money coming in!”

     Like S’Mores, though, it’s the most fun to make your own.  You can toss in almonds instead of bagel chips, or shove a gumdrop into your marshmallow before S’Moring it.  If it’s going to be YOUR stomach ache, customize it all you want.

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