Summer and s’mores

Now that it’s officially summer, it’s time to fire up the barbecue or grill. Lots of foods taste better when cooked over oak, mesquite or ordinary briquettes. And nothing can match the s’more of many a campout and summer memory.

The s’more is in fact more than the sum of its parts: the graham cracker, crisp and fresh, or more often slightly soggy from traveling to the campfire in the cooler next to the lettuce (or in Illinois where I grew up, sitting out in the humidity all day); the chocolate bar, melted and oozing from between the graham crackers; and the thing that makes the s’more what it is – a custom-roasted, melted marshmallow.

I have been relishing s’mores since Girl Scout camp in Illinois in the 1950s. In my memory, and in the s’mores of today, the graham crackers were always a little soggy, which kept them from crumbling to bits with the first bite.

Also then and now, the melted marshmallow (one per s’more) was hot, hot enough to burn your tongue a bit, whether you liked it carefully roasted a uniform shade of brown or incinerated to a crunchy black. Impatience often played a role, whether in burning the thing to get at that first bite sooner, or taking the first bite while it was still too hot.

The one part of my memory that I can’t duplicate is the melted chocolate. Seems like in those early s’mores, the heat of the marshmallow melted the chocolate so it, too, oozed out from between the graham crackers contributing to the sticky fun. It would at least get soft, so the flavor of the chocolate merged more with the marshmallow.

But in recent attempts, the chocolate bar just stays crunchy. It doesn’t seem to melt at all. I have several theories. One is that the chocolate bars are thicker than they used to be. This seems unlikely, however. Even in this day of super-sizing, it seems that more basics have shrunk rather than grown, so we pay more for the same thing.

Another theory is that there’s something in the chocolate that didn’t used to be there, to prolong shelf life, although it’s not like chocolate has any chance of melting in an air-conditioned supermarket. Or maybe it’s there to make the chocolate go farther. Maybe I should try a fancy brand, one of the new gourmet chocolates, to see if it melts better.

My favorite theory, though, is that back in Illinois, the heat and humidity lasted 24/7. Evenings did not cool off as much as here, so even after dark around the campfire, it was likely to be 80 degrees or warmer. This would pre-soften the chocolate, so all the hot marshmallow had to do was push it over the edge into runny gooey-ness.

I don’t really miss the Illinois heat and humidity, not the way I miss fireflies and thunderstorms, so I will happily go on trying to duplicate the melted-chocolate s’more here in beautiful San Benito County.

Just in case somebody hasn’t heard, here is a recipe for this treat:

Basic S’more

2 squares graham cracker

1 thin piece plain chocolate; traditionally, Hershey’s milk chocolate – the thinner, the better.

1 marshmallow

Step 1: Place the chocolate on one of the graham squares.

Step 2: Impale the marshmallow on a stick or skewer and roast according to preference.

Step 3: Pull the roasted marshmallow off on top of the chocolate and place the other graham square on top. Press down to flatten the marshmallow and – we hope – melt the chocolate. Makes one s’more.

Once the cookout is over, the leftover marshmallows and chocolate usually are consumed as treats on their own. But often, the box of remaining graham crackers gets pushed to the back of the cupboard and forgotten. Here are some recipes for using them up.

Graham cracker crust

(adapted from Southern Living Magazine and “The Joy of Cooking”)

This crust can be frozen for 20 minutes and not baked, but it will be crunchier and more flavorful if baked. It often is used for cheesecake and other creamy fillings such as cream or chiffon or commercial pudding mix.

1 2/3 cups graham crackers (5-1/3 ounces), ground in a food processor or placed in a plastic bag and pulverized with a rolling pin

1/4 cup sugar

6 tblsp. (3/4 stick) butter, melted

1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Light grease or oil a pie pan or springform pan.

Step 3: Melt butter. Add graham cracker crumbs and sugar and combine.

Step 4: Using your fingers or the flat bottom of a drinking glass, firmly press crumb mixture evenly ov bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate or bottom of a springform pan.

Step 5: Bake at 350 degrees for seven to nine minutes. Allow to cool if filling with a cooked mixture, but use hot if filling with a mixture that requires baking. Makes one 9-inch crust.

Graham cracker brown bread recipe

(adapted from About.com)

1 cup plus 4 teaspoons graham cracker crumbs (divided

use)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 large egg

1/3 cup dark molasses

1 cup fat-free buttermilk

1 cup raisins

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Coat an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray; dust with 4 teaspoons crumbs.

Step 3: Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in large bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Step 4: Place butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth (about one minute). Gradually add 1 cup crumbs; beat until well combined (about two minutes). Add egg, and beat one minute. Add molasses, and beat until well combined.

Step 4: Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; do not overbeat.

Step 5: Stir in raisins. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Step 6: Bake for one hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Makes 12 servings.

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