PLYMOUTH — As the dimming sky darkens Gallows Pond, the girls forage beneath the oaks and pines for sticks as long and as straight as their willowy arms. They clean the sticks in the campfire, burning off the moss.
Then they face the momentous decision on how best to prepare s’mores, the sweet, sticky campfire staple: Slowly toast the marshmallows to golden brown? Or plunge them into the flames as if they were spearing fish?
Five Girl Scouts step up to the fire, marshmallows impaled, ready for action. The Night Owls of Camp Wind-in-the-Pines begin to cook.
“Mine caught on fire!” Amaya Anderson, 9, announces with restrained glee.
“Of course it did,” says Becky Anderson, the camp director. “You made it catch on fire.”
Amaya demurs. Fire-safety rules discourage the premeditated combustion of marshmallows.
But later, as she is eating her s’more, sugar oozing over graham cracker, Amaya will admit: “I like to catch them on fire on purpose. Because I like the black on it. It tastes really ooey and gooey.”
Thousands of s’mores are created every summer at Camp Wind-in-the-Pines. No one knows who invented the treat, but the first written recipe is thought to have appeared in the 1927 book “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.”
In the early guides, the desserts are called Some Mores, before the name was shortened to a contraction.
“Every girl that goes to Girl Scout camp makes at least one s’more,” says Mary-Jane Strom, director of outdoor programs for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. “S’mores would probably be the simplest of what we call ‘stick cooking.’ ”
The original recipe is as simple as it is decadent: Use graham crackers to make a sandwich of a toasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate. Constructed correctly, the marshmallow will ooze and melt the chocolate.
The dessert is so popular, loved by generations of nostalgic adults, that restaurants now strive to capture the illusion of endless summer.
Max Brenner, the Back Bay restaurant devoted to all things chocolate, charges $20.25 for “Urban S’mores” for two, marshmallows toasted around an indoor flame.
Cosi, the sandwich and salad chain, serves s’mores ingredients with tabletop fire pits where diners roast their own marshmallows. And Amazon.com is filled with contraptions designed to create s’mores at home — in microwaves, on stoves, in ovens — for people who cannot get themselves to real campfires.
Some changes in s’mores could not have been foreseen in 1927: Girl Scout camps now stock gluten-free marshmallows, dairy-free chocolate, chocolate made in facilities without tree nuts, and allergy-free graham crackers.
Polly Armstrong, the curator of the Girl Scout Museum in North Andover, remembers making her first s’mores at a Girl Scout camp in Plymouth, since closed, in 1942. For her, there is no doubt about the perfect way to toast a marshmallow for s’mores. It is not setting it aflame.
“No. No. No. No,” says Armstrong, 85. “They should be golden brown, by rights.”
Her view is upheld by a 1940 version of the “Girl Scout Handbook,” inside the museum, which includes a recipe for “Some Mores.” It begins, “Toast a marshmallow slowly over the coals until brown.”
But, Armstrong allows, “To each his own.”
At Camp Wind-in-the-Pines, the girls make s’mores often, but especially on Sunday nights, hours after drop-off, when the foreignness of the first night in the tents looms. Before the girls approach the fire, Anderson gives them a safety lesson.
“Before we go to roast our marshmallows, I think [you’re] ready for a quiz,” Anderson says.
“I don’t like quizzes,” someone protests in a small voice.
“What do you do you do if your marshmallow catches on fire?” Anderson asks.
“You blow on it,” a girl answers.
Anderson agrees. “Now, do you give it like a light, dainty blow, like we’re blowing away dandelions?” she asks.
“Nooo,” the girls intone.
“You take three big birthday candle blows,” Anderson says. “And if it’s still on fire, what do you do?”
“Put it in a bucket?” someone guesses.
“You let it go,” Anderson says. “Just let it go into the fire. No catching marshmallows on fire and letting them go anywhere.”
Then, Sarah Kelley, the assistant camp director — known to the girls as “Moose” — lays out the choices.
“So tonight, we’re having deluxe s’mores,” she says. “So what you guys can do is, we have some bananas that we put in with some of your chocolate and your marshmallows. Delicious. You can put some raisins with them, and also some apples. Or you can put some nice little granola in there, give it a nice little crunch. We got some cinnamon. We got apples. We got some caramel.”
When darkness falls, and the slender moon rises over the pond in Plymouth, 17 Night Owls will crawl into sleeping bags with hair that smells like wood smoke.
In beds that are not their own, they will fall asleep. Eventually.
Amaya Anderson and Bridgid Irving, 9, her best friend, have made s’mores in other places, at day camps and at home. But none can compare with the s’mores at Camp Wind-in-the-Pines, they say.
“These are better,” Amaya says. “Because the counselors and lifeguards here are professionals.”
“Yeah,” Bridget says. “They’re professionals.”Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @KathleenBurge.