Mardi Gras

Moon Pies

You Probably Aren’t Eating Enough Moon Pies

Before this article was about Moon Pies (spoiler: This article is about Moon Pies), it was about people who use mayonnaise to make red beans and rice. Dear reader, my editor has previously asked me to write about ranch dressing on pizza (an abomination) and about okra (slimy at best, and similar to what it would be like to eat a live caterpillar). But using mayonnaise to make red beans and rice? That’s like 2020 in culinary form, and I had to draw a line. So she came back with the idea of discussing Moon Pies instead, thinking I would have harsh opinions of them. (I bleed for you in Microsoft Word, and this is how she treats me.) But how wrong she was! Reader, I love them.

Moon Pies (or  “MoonPies,” as the Chatanooga Bakery styles the name) are elegant in their simplicity: marshmallow, graham cracker and chocolate. (You might recognize that trio as s’mores, and yet somehow the two treats taste nothing alike.)

The snack was born in 1917 when Earl Mitchell, a traveling salesman for Chattanooga Bakery, met a Kentucky coal miner and asked him what sort of snack he might like when hewing ore from the earth. Something “as big as the moon,” said the miner, something filling, and Mitchell returned to the bakery and told them to get to work on something scrumptious and supersized, worthy of a working man’s lunch pail. The Moon Pie was born, and it was an instant hit.

The snack reached new heights during World War II, when it crossed paths with service members from every corner of America. After the war, soldiers returned home with a newfound love of Moon Pies, and a Southern tradition became a national one. Baby Boomers were practically raised on the stuff. And the Moon Pie hasn’t looked back since.

As for my own love of them, it was accidental. It’s not the sort of thing I would ordinarily reach for, but I’ve spent the last seven years writing a book about a quirky team of NASA scientists. That has meant reporting from countless conferences across the country. What clever treats do space scientists fill bowls with at reception tables? Starburst, Milky Way, and — you guessed it — Moon Pies.

This is to say I’ve eaten roughly 8,000 Moon Pies in recent years (I mean, you can’t say no to a free Moon Pie) and I’ve put a lot of thought into what it is I love so much about them.

The chocolate is subtle, balancing the sweetness of the marshmallow. The graham cracker zigs where you’d expect it to zag. Rather than being crispy or crunchy, it yields to the bite — but is not chewy, exactly. It has a hint of firmness — a suggestion, really — just enough to match the outer chocolate layer, and it, too, brings balance to the texture of the soft marshmallow. (Maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking about this.) Moon Pies manage to avoid the overt and overpowering sweetness of Easter candies. This is a confection to take seriously.

As fun as it is to eat, though, Moon Pie is even more fun to read. It has become something of a celebrity brand on Twitter, laying the smackdown on anyone who dares question the obvious greatness of the snack. Just ask Kaela Thompson, a Twitter user who taunted Moon Pie (I do not know the source of her anger), saying: “They should call you MoonBye because nobody likes you.” Responded Moon Pie: “They should call you Kayla because that’s how it’s supposed to be spelled.”

That sort of sass is one reason why the South has so gleefully adopted the snack aisle wonder. It has connected generations for more than a century, and inspired annual festivals, songs and competitive eating competitions. (I have finally found my sport.) In Alabama, the New Year is rung in not by a weird glowing ball in Times Square, but by a 12-foot Moon Pie in Mobile. Moon Pies, moreover, have become a staple Mardi Gras throw across the Gulf Coast. Indeed, since 1984, the Krewe of Mona Lisa and MoonPie has held annual parades in Slidell, Louisiana. (In 2018, the eccentric krewe abandoned Mardi Gras altogether, opting first to celebrate the night before St. Patrick’s Day, and subsequently relocating on the calendar to the Saturday before Halloween). It was founded, according to its website, by two artists and their husbands, because they were all sick of having to drive to New Orleans to take part in arts parades. Today the krewe is known for its carts overflowing with over 50,000 Moon Pies, all thrown to grateful parade-goers. The krewe promotes the city’s thriving art scene.

There’s just something wholesome about all of it: the parades, the parties, the pies. Though they come in different flavors — banana and vanilla and such — for me, only the original will do. Anything else is like…well, it’s like mayonnaise in red beans and rice. As for that crowd of freaks, drop me an email if mayo is part of your unholy recipe. I need to know: 1. If you are OK, and 2. If there’s something to your idea. I can be persuaded but you’d better bring your A-game. As astronomer Carl Sagan used to say, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”