February 20, 2020

There’s an appropriate sweetness to the humble origins of the s’more. While Frank Epperson and Ruth Graves Wakefield have been deified for birthing the Popsicle and the chocolate chip cookie, respectively, the name of the culinary genius who first sandwiched marshmallow and chocolate together between graham crackers has been lost to history like smoke drifting from a campfire.

The closest we have is a recipe by Loretta Scott Crew in a 1927 guide for Girl Scouts called Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. But even then, it was already considered a time-tested staple of campouts. It’s one of those creations that sprung up organically, its recipe passed from campfire to campfire as people came together in the shared bonds of nature.

Like its humble origins, the s’more exults in a sort of celebration of simplicity. Try new flavors, introduce gourmet ingredients, do what you want with it.

But you can’t beat the classics.

“The average recipe works just fine. We can’t change it up that much,” said David Sampson, executive pastry chef for Montage Palmetto Bluff. He and his team are tasked with stocking the resort’s iconic s’mores cart, a three-wheeled Dutch delivery bike converted into a cornucopia of sugary treats. From its crocks and coolers, you can craft your own spin on the s’more with marshmallows from mint to caramel and chocolate plaques in both milk and dark. “We’ll put out a few elevated ingredients, but we always have to keep the classic Jet-Puffed, Hershey’s, and Nabisco graham crackers. We do that for the nostalgia.”

While you won’t find them on the s’mores cart, the Montage house-made marshmallows are renowned. Specialty flavors from bourbon to peach can be found on the resort’s desserts, each meticulously crafted from sugar, gelatin, salt, and vanilla. Whipped to a sublime puffiness" (“It does get a little messy,” Sampson said.), each marshmallow is dusted with powdered sugar and cut by hand. However, they’ve found that what works on a plate doesn’t necessarily work over a fire. Bourbon marshmallows tend to be a bit more flammable than their nonalcoholic counterparts, after all.“We have to watch out. Some things caramelize well, and some things do not,” Sampson said.

And caramelization is key. The trick to a perfect marshmallow, experts will tell you, is to find that sweet spot in a fi re’s life span when the smoke has slowed to a wisp and the logs have charred down to burning embers an electric shade of orange. Even the original Girl Scout recipe informs you to toast your marshmallows “over the coals to a crisp gooey state.” From there, it’s about patience.

“I like mine a nice golden brown. It takes time,” Sampson said.

If you’re not the patient type, there is another way. Proving that even the unchanging s’more isn’t immune to innovation, I’ve found that you can get a quicker melt using convection rather than the conventional heat found at the base of the fire. Look toward the top of the logs for a flame that’s swirling rapidly, a good sign of rising heat stoking flames at the top of the woodpile, and get your marshmallow a good 2 to 3 inches above that highest lick of the flame. When done right, the marshmallow won’t toast, but it will cling easier to the stick since the inside doesn’t entirely melt. The outside, however, will render to an irresistible creamy goo.

Maybe this new method will catch on, and maybe it won’t. I’m betting it won’t. After all, the recipe has remained unchanged for nearly a century. Elevate its ingredients, introduce new methods, and all you’re doing is creating minor variations. The s’more itself remains unchanged and universal, like the sweet childhood memories it evokes.

Written by: Barry Kaufman

Photography by: Michael Hrizuk

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