Graham Crackers

Our camping trip was near perfection. Long hikes in the backcountry, bird-watching, warm days followed by cool nights gathered around the campfire singing songs… The only wrinkle was the much-anticipated s’mores. On the way out of town, I popped into Trader Joe’s to snatch up the graham crackers for that night’s campfire. The Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Cinnamon Grahams ($3.49 for 16 ounces) were a bust. “Thick & Hearty,” the box read, and they weren’t joking. The crunchy dark-brown crackers were more gingerbread in texture than graham cracker. I thought they would make a delicious midafternoon snack on their own, but their strong flavor soured the s’mores experience for the kids. Hubby Patrick promised a bonfire at the beach later in the month to try out the s’mores cooking again — with a different cracker.

I hit the stores, stuck with the non-cinnamon varieties, and then headed home for some finger-licking goodness. Friend MaryAnn, always ready to help with tasting, came over one evening and helped hubby Patrick and me find a better graham.

“Where do these crackers get their name?” asked Pat. “Who is Graham?”

The internet to the rescue. I sat at the computer and read from, “The Reverend Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister who became a social reformer and ferocious advocate of healthful living, is the man who put the ‘graham’ into...graham crackers.... Graham (1794–1851) believed physical lust was harmful to the body and caused such dire maladies…as pulmonary consumption, spinal diseases, epilepsy, and insanity.... Graham believed a strict vegetarian diet would aid in suppressing carnal urges; to this end, he advocated a regimen devoid of meat and rich in fiber as a way of combating rampant desire. His famed ‘Graham Bread’ was fashioned from the coarsely ground wheat flour he espoused.”

I left that statement hanging and dove lustfully into the crackers.

We started with a winner: the Nabisco Honey Maid ($3.28 for 14.4 ounces at Walmart). “This completely conforms to what I think a graham cracker should be,” announced MaryAnn. “This leaves me craving milk...but in a good way,” added Pat.

The next bunch of boxes left us less than satisfied. “More air than matter in this cracker,” noticed MaryAnn, holding up a Great Value Honey Graham ($2.50 for 14.4 ounces at Walmart), “and less taste.”

The Kroger Value Graham Crackers ($1.69 for a one-pound box at Ralphs) fared even worse. “These almost taste like a matzo cracker,” said Patrick with a grimace. “Crunch and air, with a hint of cardboard,” he laughed. “Sounds like a recipe for poor s’mores.”

The Safeway Lowfat Honey Graham Cracker ($2.49 for 14 ounces at Vons) was mealier than the average graham and carried a bad aftertaste. “Reminiscent of biting into an apple and thinking it’s going to be crisp but it turns out mealy,” added Patrick.

Albertsons Lowfat Honey Graham Crackers ($1.69 for 14 ounces) had the opposite problem. The crunch of the cracker was audible across the room. “The texture of this is too much like a saltine,” offered Patrick, “and too flaky. I don’t think you want flake in your graham.”

Its relative, Albertsons Honey Graham Crackers ($1.69 for 14.4 ounces), lacked the flakiness but also lacked taste.

We finally tasted a winner: Ralphs Wild Animal Honey Graham Crackers ($1.99 for 9 ounces), meaty wheat taste, not too sweet, not too dry. But good ol’ Pat, ever the naysayer, reminded us that they wouldn’t work for s’mores. “Too small to work with them over the fire.”

We left him to his grousing and cracked open another box: Annie’s Bunny Grahams Honey ($3.59 for 7.5 ounces at Henry’s). We knew the small bunny-cookie size would also be a problem for s’mores.

Of the two Keebler grahams — the Original Graham Crackers ($3.89 for 15 ounces at Albertsons) and the Honey Grahams Crackers ($3.89 for 16 ounces at Albertsons) — the honey type struck the right sweetness-and-texture balance. The original was a little bland and dry.

Ralphs Graham Honey ($1.99 for 16 ounces) perked the man right up. “Snappy, crunchy instead of mealy. These are my favorite. I’m not getting that licking-graham-cracker-paste-off-my-molars feeling. That’s a good thing.”

“They come in squares…very smart packaging,” added MaryAnn. “The traditional-shaped crackers always snap, anyway. Might as well start them as squares.”

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