Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 6, 2012

Generations of s’mores, campfires

— Recently, I have rekindled my childhood love of an ooey-gooey summertime favorite: s’mores.

My weekly trip to the grocery store was going as usual. I was crossing things off my list that I needed to stock up on and doing my best to pick the healthiest choices. That was all before I ran into the huge display of s’more making materials up at the front.

Seeing the nice little cardboard display with all of the chocolate bars, graham crackers and marshmallows, I tried to remember the last time I had eaten the messy treat. I decided it had probably been a while, last summer but possibly even longer.

Sometime between then and arriving at the checkout, all of the s’more ingredients mysteriously found their way into my cart. I am a s’more traditionalist, you might say. I believe in the trifecta of the marshmallow, graham cracker and Hershey bar. I don’t do any of those fancy s’mores with Reese’s or the flavored, multi-colored marshmallows. All of those “healthy s’more” alternatives seem to defeat the purpose for me. A plain, simple s’more and a nice, tall glass of milk are fine enough for me.

Soon, I was figuring out how long my s’mores needed to spend in the microwave to be just right. If you don’t have enough time on the clock, you can’t get a good enough melt. If you put too much time on the clock you’ll be cleaning a marshmallow explosion out of your microwave and that is never fun. Luckily and with a little bit more practice than I would like to admit, I have gotten microwave s’mores down to a science.

Of course, the microwave doesn’t provide that exact taste and atmosphere that have endeared s’mores to me throughout the years. I’ve learned that no matter how well you microwave a s’more, you will never get that slightly ashy taste on your marshmallow and you definitely won’t get the camaraderie of the campfire.

Making s’mores was a favorite family pastime. My dad and brother had dug out a small fire pit in the backyard, so it was a common occurrence during the summer to spend an evening around the campfire, cooking hot dogs and marshmallows for our s’mores.

Other times, Dad would take us camping in one of the local state parks and we would cook s’mores before settling into our tent for the night. Dad is serious enough about his campfire cooking that we always had the nice campfire roasting sticks, the ones with the wooden handles and a nice, metal poker on the end. In addition to the tent equipment, those roasting sticks were always important supplies that needed to be taken along on any camping trip.

My dad’s great-great-aunt owned a couple of cottages up near the connection of the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan so many summers were also spent up there around the fire by Big Bear Lake. After years of practice in their girlhood, Great-Grandma, Aunt Berenice and Aunt Marge had perfected the art of the perfectly toasted s’more and were more than happy to pass on this lesson to us.

There is a proper technique and timing to toasting marshmallows over an open fire for those who have never done so. I prefer my marshmallows just lightly toasted, enough to start melting the chocolate. I have seen others burn theirs completely, even dip them in a little of the fire ash for some taste.

More important than toasting your marshmallows just right was the overall atmosphere around the campfire just as the sun was starting to set. Sometimes, we would tell ghost stories to each other and other times my parents would just reminisce about their own childhood and days they had spent around campfires.

There is something special about a campfire. For generations, humans have sat around a fire together, cooking meals, telling stories and bonding. It is something immaterial that can be handed down from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild, that is invaluable. There is something special about looking up from the campfire into the stars and knowing that your ancestors were probably doing the same thing hundreds of years ago.

Of course, I doubt very much that my ancestors were fortunate enough to have pre-packaged hot dogs as well as readily available supplies of chocolate and marshmallows when they cooked out at the campfire. I’m sure the plastic folding chairs, bug zappers and returning to an air-conditioned house at the end of the day wasn’t something they could enjoy either.

For now, I think I can get by with making my s’mores by microwave. There is something to be said for modern conveniences.

Kate Coil is a reporter a the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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