Saturday, July 5, 2008

Simply, Sylvester Graham

Did your Independence Day celebrations include s'mores? Do you plan on baking Moon Pies for Moon Day, July 20? You know the "pies" with the delicious layer of marshmallow filling sandwiched between two graham cracker "cookies," all dipped in chocolate. Something like a Mallomar, minus the "hat" which of course wouldn't be a Mallomar without graham crackers. Well, if so, give a toast to Sylvester Graham, inventor of the graham cracker, whose birth anniversary we are celebrating today. Actually, you should be certain your toast is of the fruit beverage variety as Graham was an early advocate of dietary reform in America. His emphasis was on vegetarianism and the temperance movement. Perhaps, you should also bake the graham crackers yourself the ones we purchase in the stores now are not really what Graham had in mind for improved health. He would probably be most disappointed to find sugar and refined flour as ingredients in the commercial brands.

Sylvester Graham

Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg were probably two of the most influential advocates on diet and health in American history. Sylvester Graham was born in the small agricultural town of West Suffield, Connecticut, on July 5, 1794. According to the Graham family papers @ The University of Michigan, he was the seventeenth child of John Graham, Jr whose father emigrated from Scotland in the early 1700's. John Graham Jr. served in the French and Indian War, as a Chaplain. Between service he also had a ministry in Suffield, Ct. It was not until his early thirties that Graham settled on a career in the ministry.

The superannuated John Graham fathered his last child, Sylvester, at the age of 72, and died about two years later. His mother, who was declared unfit as a parent when Graham was around six years old. Until he was in his twenties, Sylvester Graham was raised by a succession of relatives, working as a farm hand, clerk and teacher before chronic ill health led him to choose the ministry as a less stressful profession. Graham preached under the auspices of the Presbytery of Newark in New Jersey during the early 1830's, during which time he began to propound his distinctive, all-encompasing reformist ideas on diet and health. source
There are those who would suggest Sylvester Graham's "chronic illness" may have been tuberculosis. I did a quick check in America's Collectible Cookbooks one of my most treasured resources written by Mary Anna DuSablon and published by Ohio Press. In chapter three titled Early New England Classics, Ms. DuSablon shares her view on Sylvester Graham's Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making.
...From then until he was in his early twenties he seems to have been shuffled from relative to neighbor, working as farmhand, clerk, teacher, all the while showing increasingly severe symptoms of tuberculosis. He was in ill health when he began his preaching career, and after one long siege, married his nurse, a Miss Earls, by whom he had several children...In 1830 the Pennsylvania State Society for the Suppression of the Use of Ardent Spirits involved Graham in the temperance cause, and he began to study the affects of diet and drink on his own ill health...

As a gifted orator, Graham lectured extensively on the benefits of a healthy diet, temperance reform and vegetarianism. Around 1829, Sylvester Graham invented The Graham Diet which consisted mainly of his invention of Graham Bread, made from unsifted and unbolted flour and free from chemical additives such as alum and chlorine. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat and high fiber foods were also included. The diet excluded meat and spices altogether. Very fresh milk, cheese, and eggs were permitted in moderation, and butter was to be used "sparingly." Graham's cracker consisted of whole wheat flour and is very different than those served today. Today, cinnamon is commonly added to graham cracker. He lectured for about nine years in Philadelphia, Eastern PA and in NY. The scope of his interests encompassed what went into the body to include solids as well as liquids.

The Graham diet was widely followed in Oberlin, and for a while dictated what food might be served in the College dining halls. The "Graham-only" policy of Oberlin College was rescinded in 1841 because of mass student outcry (and after a professor was dismissed for daring to bring his own pepper shaker to the dining hall--spices of any kind being in violation of Graham's principles.) source

Graham believed that adhering to the diet would also prevent people from having impure thoughts. His "health movement" known as Grahamism flourished during the 1830's. Grahamism was a 19th Century alternative medical therapy/health reform movement. Grahamism stressed the benefit of complete abstention from alcohol, tobacco and meat and advocated eating coarse-grained bread more than 12 hours old, fruits and vegetables.

In the United States, the popular health movement of the nineteenth century is also often noted for its role in the creation of the ready-to-eat breakfast cereal industry, a cultural and economic institution particular to this nation. Popular health often rests on the concept that society in general is plagued by maladies, diseases, and psychological ills caused by improper habits, and that the individual—not the trained physician—possesses the remedies necessary to stay on the right track. Sylvester Graham, lecturing and writing in the 1830s and 1840s, is perceived as the founding father of the popular health movement in America, the one who, borrowing scientific ideas from contemporary British and French doctors (and semi-doctors), first developed a systematic cure for the neurological and physiological ills that plagued a wayward nation. source

According to wikipedia, Sylvester Graham's recipe for Graham Bread first appeared in The New Hydropathic Cookbook published in 1855. But, it also says, Graham invented the bread in 1829. "Graham argued that chemical additives in bread made it unwholesome. The use of additives by bakeries was a common practice during the Industrial Revolution to make bread whiter in color, and more commercially appealing. He denounced urban bakers who used 'refined' flour--stripped of husks and dark oleaginous germ and whitened with 'chemical agents'--because it baked more quickly than traditional bread. Darker wheat bread was considered the fare of country rubes. Refined bread was a status symbol of the middle class because of its "purity and refinement" in its color and was purchased, rather than home-made. Graham believed that a firm bread made of coarsely ground whole-wheat flour was more nutritious and healthy." wiki

"The simpler, plainer, and more natural the food ... the more healthy, vigorous, and long-lived will be the body,"
Sylvester Graham
I came across an excellent article titled Utopia in a cereal bowl. Written By Amanda Spake the article is a bowl full of information. Here's an excerpt:
A popular orator and abolitionist, Graham studied the teachings of the Quakers and members of the Bible Christian Church, the first vegetarian church in the nation. He believed that eating what Adam and Eve ate would restore balance to the body. Meat, shellfish, fatty sauces, salt, spices, sugar, coffee, tea, condiments, and, of course, alcohol were forbidden. source

Graham was a prolific writer. His most widely read among his many publications were his Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making (1837) and the journal he edited the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity. In A Treatise on Bread and Bread-making Graham outlined "his forward-thinking theory that fiber was vital for health. He marketed his own high-fiber Graham flour and a version of his famous Graham cracker, the first health foods available."

In Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making Graham cautioned his readers on the negative affects of using refined white flour. He demanded readers use unbolted whole wheat flour (whole wheat flour was commonly called Graham flour) coarsely ground from berries and home grown without manure fertilizer. Now alerted to the consequences of inferior bread, American housewives served graham flour in all conceivable forms. There were Graham biscuits, gems, crackers, muffins, puddings, cakes, and cookies. Graham diamonds and Graham cookies were featured in cookbooks all across the nation. Certain rusks in Finland were called grahamkorputs. (I couldn't find a recipe for grahamkorputs online but, I did find one for Finnish Flat Bread over at Finnish Food Revisited, which was a very pleasant place to visit. The link is below.

I'm not going to be posting a recipe today. Manuela over at Baking History tells me she is posting a recipe for Graham Bread she baked from a book by Maria Parloa. She says "it came out great!" If it came out as tempting as any of her other masterpieces, I'm sure we will all be drooling healthier.

Graham had many devoted followers. He was so famous that his lectures on proper living were attended by thousands. He also founded the American Physiological Society with William Alcott. "A vegetarian society in all but name it was the first secular organisation in the world specifically promoting vegetarianism." He also had his share of naysayers. He was often ridiculed by the media. In 1837, he couldn't find a place to speak in Boston because of the threatened riots by butchers and commercial bakers. In closing today's post, I would once again like to refer to America's Collectible Cookbooks.

Graham died at the age of forty-three after taking a tepid bath in his Northampton, Massachusetts, home. It was said that he went back to eating meat and sipping stimulants to try to revitalize his body, and his early demise was often cited as evidence of the total failure of his health program. Yet given what we know of nutrition and exercise, notwithstanding the ominous effects of early and sever physical and mental shape, it is likely that Sylvester Graham's personal habits added a decade or two of life to his ravaged young spirit.
I don't feel right not dropping off a recipe. How about this one I found as an experiment project in Michigan.
Solar S’Mores
1. Put four graham crackers side by side in the bottom of the glass baking pan.
2. Place a chocolate bar on top of two of the graham crackers.
3. Put 8 mini-marshmallows on top of the other two graham crackers.
4. Cover the baking pan with the clear glass lid.
5. Put the pan out in an area where it will get full sunlight—no shade!
6. Let the pan just sit there until the chocolate bars and marshmallows melt.
7. To make a S’More, put one chocolate and one marshmallow graham cracker together to make a sandwich. You should have two sandwiches.
1. Graham Family Papers
2. Sylvester Graham @ Food Reference.com (brief bio)
3. A Brief Biography of Sylvester Graham
4. History of Vegetarianism: Sylvester Graham
1. Graham Crackers Don't Have to Be Square (recipe)
2. Finnish Flat Bread


  1. Such a comprehensive post! Great job with it! Glad the graham cracker recipe was helpful.

  2. Hi Stef,
    Thanks so much for visiting and for the kind words. I do have a tendency to get a bit carried away:)

    The graham cracker recipe fit perfectly into this post. I really appreciate it.

  3. I recently sampled some organic or natural graham crackers at the store and then brought some home. The taste certainly is different from those in the blue box. Might be an interesting experiment to try those Solar S'Mores--because it's been so hot here they would be ready in about 15 minutes!

  4. Thanks for the info. I'm going to check out my grocery store to see if they carry the natural graham crackers. My grand-daughter sometimes has tummy problems and graham crackers seem to help. Natural would be all the better...

    Oh please let us know if you try the solar s'mores. I wonder how they would be with Solar Sweet Tea?

  5. That was really interesting--who knew? I really want a s'mores now! I'm going to look at the graham bread.

  6. Hi Katrina,
    Thanks for dropping in. I just visited your blog. Those peanut butter cookies look amazing! Perhaps, the boys could "bake" the s'mores on a hot summer day. Manuela's Graham Bread looks simply "divine." Enjoy!

  7. Yumm Smores. Fascinating post. Its intersting to note how back then what the movements were towards good health and nutrtion.

  8. Hi Louise,

    this is great. I enjoyed reading all about Sylvester Graham---as always you offer a goldmine of information and interesting resources.

  9. Very interesting! I knew very little about Sylvester Graham. I would guess that not many people know that Mr. Kellogg was quite the health food enthusiast, too.

  10. Hi Manuela,
    Thanks for the generous helping of kindness. It was FUN!!! Let's do it again real soon.

    Hi T.W.
    I think both would be surprised to see their "new" product versions.

  11. This is great. Thank you so much for all this background! I'm wondering -- somewhere in all those cookbooks you have -- do you have the original recipe for how Graham actually made his graham crackers? I have found lots of recipes online for graham crackers, but all of them seem too sweet to have actually been his. And most of them start with two kinds of flours, not just graham flour. Any help you can dig up on this would be much appreciated! Thanks, Carey (csk2112@columbia.edu)

  12. "The simpler, plainer, and more natural the food ... the more healthy, vigorous, and long-lived will be the body,"
    Sylvester Graham
    Very interesting!


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Thanks for dropping in...Louise