What in the world would we have done if Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham hadn’t invented the Graham cracker? How sad would it be if our kids hadn’t grown up with Teddy Grahams? And, sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya without s’mores wouldn’t be the same! Don’t know about you all, but in the south if you haven’t eaten a Moon Pie, you haven’t lived. And, a cheesecake without a Graham cracker crust is unthinkable.
The Graham cracker also known as a Graham wafer was developed in 1829 by Reverend Graham as a health food. It was part of his diet regimen to suppress what he considered unhealthy carnal urges, source of many maladies according to the good pastor. The New Jersey Reverend often lectured on “self-abuse” as it was commonly called at the time. One of his many theories was that one could curb one’s sexual appetite by eating bland foods. Shut my mouth and lock the door! Of interest, another man who held this belief was Dr. John Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes.
The true Graham cracker is made with Graham flour, a combination of finely-ground unbleached-wheat flour with the wheat bran and germ coarsely-ground and added back in providing nutrition and flavor. From 1851, it was known by the British as a digestive biscuit.
Today, many modern “Graham crackers” are made of the refined, bleached white flour to which the Rev. Graham was implacably opposed. Some commercial Graham crackers are no longer considered health food, but have remained popular as a snack food and breakfast cereal with greater amounts of sugars and other sweeteners than in the original recipe (which may have been unsweetened), and far less Graham flour, often with no whole wheat flour whatsoever. In fact some of these commercial “Graham crackers” are topped with a thick coating of cinnamon and sugar or have chocolate flavoring or coatings added. I just purchased reduced-fat Grahams and they are yummy.
So, let’s take a look at some of the food items we wouldn’t have if Reverend Graham hadn’t invented his healthy cracker.
There’s the larruping good Graham cracker pie crust for the American cheesecakes. It has become increasingly popular for use as a cream pie crust and is imitated by the Oreo-style crusts made from the crushed chocolate and cream cookies, we all love.
S’more appears to be a contraction of the phrase, “some more.” While the origin of the dessert is unclear, the first recorded version of the recipe can be found in the publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts of 1927. The recipe is credited to Loretta Scott Crew, who reportedly made them by the campfire for the Scouts. It is unknown whether the Girl Scouts were the first to make s’mores, but there appears to be no earlier claim to this snack. Although it is unknown when the name was shortened, recipes for “Some Mores” are in various Girl Scout publications until at least 1971.
And, let’s not forget the Moon Pie made from marshmallow crème and Graham crackers.
Marshmallow cream (fluff) was first sold in glass jars in 1925. The sealed jars provided a longer shelf life allowing shipments outside of New England. By 1929, fluff had made its way to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Miners wanted a snack that was cheap and filling for their lunch. One of the miners held up his hands towards the sky, making a shape of the moon with his hands, and said that he wanted the cake that big. A salesman for the Chattanooga Bakery, Earl Mitchell, Sr., noticed this practice when he stopped by on his bakery goods route. Pretty soon, the only sales that were made by the bakery salesman were for Graham crackers. He asked one of the miners about the snack and ended up discussing a product with them.
Later when Mitchell was explaining his low sales to M.P. Shauf, the general foreman and chef for the Chattanooga Bakery, the salesman relayed the miners ideas to Shauf, who decided to make something for them to buy. One day in late 1929, after several different recipes, he made a full size pie with Graham crackers and marshmallow fluff. That same day, he had his 3-year-old grandson with him at the bakery and offered him a pie to taste. Because the pie had small indentions where the marshmallow cream was cooked and bubbles had popped, Stanley said it looked like the moon. Shauf yelled “Moon Pie” so loud that it scared his grandson to tears. The invention of the Moon Pie ensured the Chattanooga Bakery’s survival just as the Great Depression began.
Okay for the real southerners, we all know about the custom of eating Moon Pies and RC Cola which is a century old. (Let’s not confuse its full name Royal Crown Cola with Royal Crown Canadian whiskey and Coca-Cola or as we know it plain ol’ Coke.) Precisely how and when people began the custom of drinking RC Cola with Moon Pies is unknown, although it is likely that their inexpensive prices, combined with their larger serving sizes, contributed to establishing this combination as the “working man’s lunch”. The popularity of this combination was celebrated in a popular song of the 1950’s, by Big Bill Lister, “Gimmee an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” This was also shown to be the janitor’s lunch in “The Green Mile”. There is a Moon Pie and RC Festival in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, and a Moon Pie Eating Contest in Bessemer, Alabama. And,if you’ve ever been to Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas, they serve Moon Pies and RC colas. Or they did when I was there in 2005.
I was raised on Graham crackers, and in turn my daughters ate them and now they are a favorite of my grandchildren.
So, tell me about your favorite Graham cracker treat?