The Peculiar Origin of the Graham Cracker

Graham Cracker
Available circa 1915
Crackers come in every shape and size. One of the most famous cracker varieties is not served with fish or olives. Rather, it is a sweet treat, often eaten stand-alone, or with butter, peanut butter, honey, or perhaps jam. It can be crumbled to make pie crust. We know it as the Graham cracker.

The Flour behind the Cracker

The Graham cracker is generally dark tan and has a somewhat gritty texture. This is because it is made from unsifted coarse-grind whole wheat flour.Graham Cracker

This namesake cracker was inspired by the preaching of the somewhat eccentric Sylvester Graham (1794-1851).¹ As a young man, Sylvester tried many occupations, eventually deciding to be a clergyman. However, the message he preached was swayed by personal belief, rather than adhering strictly to Biblical teachings.

He advocated a somewhat austere treatment of the body [Colossians 2:20-23]. Meat and alcohol and even bathing in warm water were harmful, he concluded. Enjoyment of physical pleasures were at least suspect.

As to his being unusual in this regard, today, there are individuals who advocate harsh lifestyles and restrictive dietary practices with near religious fervor.



What Did He Die Of?

Sylvester is listed in a handwritten document of death for 1851 in the state of Massachusetts. An excerpt of that document is provided here. What does it say was the cause of Graham’s death? Congress Water – warm baths.

Graham Cracker
Cause of Death
Now Congress Water is defined as: “a saline mineral water from the Congress spring at Saratoga, in the State of New York.” Then, too, there is such a thing as warm baths. But what does all this mean?

The New England Historical Society informs us (see the reference) he died of opium enemas prescribed by his physician. Such treatments, odd as they may seem, are not unknown, as is seen from the title of a medical article from 1907, sown below. Having been born in 1794, he was just 57 years of age at his death. Was his message altogether wrong?

Graham Cracker
Sylvester Graham’s lifestyle and diet were unsuccessful in helping him achieve the Biblical norm of “three score and ten”. However, rather than his dietary practices proving false, he may have died from a form of cancer. Whether that is the case or not, the primary cause of death did overreach him: human sin and imperfection.- Romans 5:12. Likely he would have realized that.
Graham Cracker
Sylvester Graham

His Legacy

Sylvester Graham did leave mankind a legacy – the small, crisp and gritty, flavorful cookie we still call the Graham cracker.

Though Graham bread generally escapes public awareness, it can still be enjoyed.

Watch this one-minute video that tells how you can make it.



¹ The Graham cracker was originally not the only food item inspired by Graham’s preaching. His message was aimed against processed bread. Hence Graham flour and bread also became available. However, it is the cracker that survives in public awareness.

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