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MoonPies and the South

 
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There’s a group of local gentlemen, some retired farmers, who have gathered at the potbellied stove of the Original Store every day for the thirty-plus years since the Cooper family reopened the Store. Known as “The Lunch Bunch”, these men talk about the weather, the state of this season’s crops, and to share the same lunch they’ve been enjoying together for over three decades. The essential items of their daily feast: a hunk of bologna cut off the round and a MoonPie for dessert… all washed down with an ice-cold RC Cola from the old fire-engine red Coca-Cola cooler.

moon-pie-4.jpgRC Cola, birthed in Columbus, Georgia, has been a beloved American beverage for over a century, but we’ll get to that story another day. It’s RC Cola’s perfect partner, the MoonPie, that we’re celebrating today. MoonPies are the American South’s favorite snack food. If you’ve never had the pleasure of biting into one, they have 3 graham-like crackers sandwiching layers of marshmallow and dunked in a hearty layer of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or banana. Mast Store sells the traditional chocolate MoonPies, as well as the mini sizes.

"About how big?" Mitchell asked. A miner held out his hands, framing the moon, and said, "About that big!"

So, where did these pies named in honor of the moon come from? As legend has it, the MoonPie brand was born in 1917 when a bakery salesman, Earl Mitchell, Sr., visited a company store that catered to coal miners. The miners said they wanted something solid and filling because they often didn't get time to break for lunch. "About how big?" Mitchell asked. A miner held out his hands, framing the moon, and said, "About that big!" 

When Mitchell returned to the bakery, he noticed some of the workers dipping graham cookies into ch0colate and laying them on the window sill to harden. He experimented with adding another cookie and a generous coating of chocolate and samples of the new "MoodPie" were distributed.

Sometime later, Chattanooga Bakery, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee acquired the recipe and the MoodPie was renamed MoonPie. The response was enormous, and it became a regular product of the bakery. This delicious confection soon found its place in Southern folklore as part of the “working man's lunch”.  Coal miners and laborers of all kinds could enjoy the biggest snack on the rack, a MoonPie and a 10 ounce RC Cola, each for a nickel. 

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Exactly why an RC Cola was twinned with the MoonPie is a mystery, but the combination was memorialized in Big Bill Lister’s 1951 hit “Gimme a Moonpie and an RC Cola” and NRBQ's "RC and a MoonPie."

And its legacy doesn’t end there. The MoonPie even has its own festivals and MoonPie-eating contests that take place across the South – from Bessemer, Alabama  to Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Would you believe that the record holder has eaten 38 MoonPies in one minute? Shoo-wee-law!

Since New Year’s Eve 2008, the folks of Mobile, Alabama have been raising a lighted mechanical MoonPie to celebrating the coming of the New Year. A banana-colored version of the pie is raised to the top of a 200-foot crane as the clock strikes midnight and revelers dine on a massive moon pie weighing 55 pounds and containing 45,000 calories. That is one hefty snack cake!

moon-pie-1.jpgMobile, Alabama’s love for this sweet treat doesn’t end when the New Year begins. They’ve even adopted the pie as a traditional item thrown off parade floats during their raucous Mardi Gras celebrations. Slidell, Louisiana has adopted this tradition in their Mardi Gras celebrations as well, naming a entire parade after the cake sandwich: “The Krewe of Mona Lisa and Moon Pie”. 

How could Earl Mitchell, Sr., ever have known his little invention to satiate hungry coal miners could turn into a cultural phenomenon, lasting well into the 21st century? A lover of this cake said it best, “Beloved MoonPie, by and by, you are the biggest snack cake under the sky." Indeed, it is.