In the 1800s, our nation was in a struggle, one that continues today and is immortalized in all nooks and crannies of our consciousness. The struggle against promiscuity! That's right, promiscuity, and to face off against this moral scourge was the hero of today's story, named Sylvester.
Sylvester had worked a number of jobs throughout his life, but in 1826 (at age 32), Sylvester decided to become a Presbyterian minister. He was almost more of a lecturer than a minister, as he didn't necessarily preach in the traditional ministry, but more of an educational lecture circuit. People welcomed him because he not only spoke of God, hell, fire and salvation, he talked about the same things that people can't get enough of today - healthy living hacks and diets.
He may have been no doctor, but Sylvester had recommendations for how to improve one's health in every aspect of life. At night, you should sleep on a hard mattress. You should take cold showers. Never drink, and become either a vegan or a vegetarian subsisting almost exclusively on bread - homemade wheat bread to be precise.
He was so specific about this last point that he was once attacked by bakers and butchers who were upset about his dietary recommendations. After all, he had the power to put them out of work in some communities, especially in Boston and New York where he had boarding houses and a communal living farm called Brook Farm.
It seems he likely was critical of the ingredients the bakers used, because Sylvester was particular about his food recommendations. Sylvester's instructions were very plain. When he said you should eat only bread, he didn't mean banana bread. He meant make it as bland and gritty as you can, because Sylvester's beliefs were that sexuality itself was causing most health issues, hence the hard mattresses, sober weekends and cold showers.
Along that same vein, he said exciting and flavorful food was a major cause of promiscuity, so the breads he baked and recommended for others were of a very coarse ground flour with nothing to flavor it except the yeast, flour and water.
Being a former jack of many trades, Sylvester didn't satisfy himself with just talking about bland foods. At the Brook Farm he worked hard to invent them too, so that he could save the country by sharing the blandest foods he could with the rest of the world.
He did manage to make at least two marketable items, one a brown cracker that admittedly leaves you with a somewhat gritty feeling in your mouth and the other a rather plain, if crunchy, cereal.
Sylvester probably rolls over in his grave every morning and every summer, however, as his attempts at making nutritional but bland foods backfired. Today that cereal comes glazed in sugar and sometimes other flavors. As for that cracker, many children have fond memories of taking two halves of Sylvester's gritty crackers and smashing a gooey, hot marshmallow and a chocolate bar in between for a treat that is anything but bland.
Such is the legacy of Sylvester Graham, who hoped to save the country from promiscuity using a diet of graham crackers and corn flakes as his weapon of choice.
Homemade Graham Crackers
Courtesy of Kingarthurbaking.com
(Leave out all seasonings if you want to make Sylvester proud)
- 1 cup whole wheat flour or a blend of wheat pastry and graham flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2-3 tablespoons milk
Combine your dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, honey, oil and two tablespoons milk. Once combined, now stir this mixture into your dry ingredients to make a stiff dough. If you need more milk, drizzle it in a little at a time while mixing. Knead the dough gently until smooth.
Wrap the dough in plastic and chill it about 1 hour until firm.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each half out to about 1/16-inch thick on a piece of parchment paper or a floured surface. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Once both are ready, brush them with additional milk as a glaze and bake 10 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Rotate the pans in the oven after about 5 minutes.
Next, while still in the pans cut the sheets of semi-cooked dough into rectangles three inches by two inches, but do not separate them. Return the crackers to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, then turn off the oven and prop the door slightly ajar for 5 minutes with the crackers inside.
Once cool, close the door again to allow the crackers to crisp up for 20 minutes.
Graham Cracker Toffee
- 14-16 sheets of graham crackers
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup salted butter
- 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans (or other toppings)
Line an 11- by 15-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the crackers so they are touching in a single layer. In a medium saucepan heat the butter over medium-high heat until melted, then add brown sugar and stir to combine. Continue cooking until it reaches a boil, constantly stirring. Allow to boil 2 minutes and then remove from the heat and pour over the crackers. Spread the mixture evenly over the crackers and then bake for 6-7 minutes at 350 degrees or until it is bubbly.
Remove the pan immediately and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top evenly. Allow it to sit and melt, then spread the melted chocolate as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the nuts evenly on top. Allow to cool for two hours before cutting and serving.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.