My children love bonfires. They love them so much I have no doubt on which side of the Salem witch trials they would have sided.
“Wait, did you see that old Marie up the road has harvested some orange peppers?”
“Orange? We only grow green peppers round these parts, she must be a witch.”
There would have been bonfires ranging across the entirety of New England just so my kids could enjoy them.
I have no idea what they love about bonfires, it certainly isn’t the bugs, the smoke smell that invades our clothes and hair, or watching to make sure kids don’t fall into the fire. Although, they don’t have the responsibility for any of those things, they have only one, to eat smores.
It’s no surprise that the first written recipe to combine chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker was in a publication for children - Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts - in 1927. Who could deny the goodness of a snack that stacks sugar, sugar, and sugar cracker?
We live in the country and have a permanent bonfire ring in our backyard and filling it with sticks is one chore the kids love to do. I could pay them hundreds of dollars to clean their room but they have no context for what hundreds of dollars is, but if I ask them to collect sticks for a bonfire, they can immediately see the rewards. S'mores. Their ears perk up like a dog that hears its leash jangle or like a dog that hears s’mores are being served.
The evenings of bonfires and s’mores go something like this. Someone, usually me, takes care to compile the ingredients inside, mostly hoping that everything is in stock. Those ingredients along with a slopping wet towel, are carefully and orderly piled onto a large tray and carried outside. This tray is set back from the fire and if the children are not in the immediate area the contents and location of this tray are not announced. It’s like the nuclear launch codes, their location and contents is only needed at the exact moment of use.
Eventually, because we don’t want our kids to be up all night, we call them over to enjoy s’mores. From birth all children want to roast their own marshmallow, but not until they are 37 can they actually do it without burning the hell out of it and feeding it to their father. My wife and I then begin to dutifully roast them which mostly entails warming them up. After the brief warming the marshmallow is assembled with chocolate and cracker and the mess of consumption begins.
I have never seen anything this messy. One year olds with a birthday cake don’t make this much of a mess. Exploding birthday cakes don’t make this much mess. Our children love eating them so no care is taken to enjoy each bite. After consuming the entire thing the children look like crazy people, big eyes kept open by a rush of sugar, chocolate on their face, and marshmallow in their hair. There is always marshmallow in their hair. We clean them up as best we can with the wet towel, eventually using the technique know as ‘pretend you are washing a pig’ and we send them off to play or hold them on our laps as we watch the flames. Until they want another one.
A favorite book at our house is, If you Give a Mouse a Cookie, which tells the story of a mouse who just wants a cookie, then a glass of milk, then a napkin and so on until the mouse wants another cookie. Our story might go like this:
If you give a child a bonfire they’re going to want s'mores to go with it.
If you give them s’mores then they’re going to be up very late that night.
If they stay up late they’re going to sleep in the next day.
If they sleep in the next day they’re going to want to stay up late that night.
If they stay up late that night they’re going to want a bonfire.
If they want a bonfire, they’re going going to want s’mores to go with it.
This is a (very) rough draft of an essay for a book I’m currently writing. If you’d like to see my progress check the journal I’m keeping.