Monday, June 4, 2012

MUCH ABOUT MOON PIES


Yum! Yum!
Last month I spent several days in Chattanooga, Tennessee and accompanied my daughter and her husband on a shopping spree. Mostly, I watched them shop, but when we went into a bookstore, my shopping spirit suddenly came alive. I picked up a copy of David Magee’s MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack and began reading about one of the snacks that has been consumed by millions of southerners since a recipe was created for the pies in 1929 at the Chattanooga Bakery.

My experience with MoonPies dates back to fishing trips in the late 1950’s, which I'll mention in a subsequent blog. MoonPies were an indispensable part of lunch when we floated the Bogue Chitto River fly fishing near Franklinton, Louisiana. We didn’t take along RC Cola, but I’m told that this drink was a popular and inexpensive complement to the pie. During the 50’s the song “Gimmee an RC Cola and a MoonPie” became popular and celebrated the success of this inexpensive workman’s lunch.

The MoonPie is a dessert sandwich that consists of two moon-shaped graham cracker cookies, filled with marshmallow and coated in chocolate, banana, or coconut. It isn’t a high fat concoction but the sugar in it is deliciously high. It was first concocted by a chef at Chattanooga Bakery in Chattanooga, Tennessee following the instruction of Earl Mitchell, a salesman for the bakery, who had learned from miners in Kentucky that they wanted a filling snack shaped like the moon for their lunch pails. Mitchell returned to the Chattanooga Bakery with the idea to stack one round graham cookie on top of another, sandwiching marshmallow in between and covering the snack with a layer of chocolate. The concoction sold for a nickel and was a big seller in the coal fields, later becoming popular throughout the South, from the Carolinas to Georgia and Tennessee.

David Magee reports that the Chattanooga Bakery doesn’t expend large quantities of its time and resources telling customers how great their product is – the little round dessert pie, about four inches in diameter, sells itself. Of course, there’s the famous MoonPie festival in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, approximately an hour’s drive from Sewanee, attended by more than 20,000 festival goers. It features a run, a parade, and the crowning of a MoonPie king and queen. I’ve always been a week late for the Bell Buckle celebration, but when I want to ship this dessert to my daughters, I shop in Bell Buckle for the snack. I don’t know whether New Orleanians throw the pies from their parade floats, but Mardi Gras krewes in Mobile, Alabama have been known to throw MoonPies, in addition to the traditional beads, to clamoring crowds.

According to David Magee, 100 million MoonPies are produced annually, and the Chattanooga Bakery is believed to be one of the largest producers of marshmallow in the world. The MoonPie has a phenomenal shelf life of four months.

In the introduction to MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack, David Magee quotes from one MoonPie consumer in Clayton, North Carolina who claims that the first breakfast she ever fixed for her husband was a MoonPie and an RC Cola, and his book is filled with similar anecdotes extolling the flavor of this snack.

When Magee questioned Sam Campbell IV, third generation leader of the MoonPie company, concerning the number of MoonPies that have been produced in its history of over eighty years, he estimated that three to four billion of the flavorful snack have been produced since the first pie was baked!

Author David Magee is a newspaper columnist and non-fiction author who lives on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. He has also authored The John Deere Way and Turnaround: How Carlos Ghosn Rescued Nissan.
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