Moon Pies were not invented in New Orleans, but they should have been. The confection has a New Orleans quality to it – decadent and excessive. Because they are factory wrapped in cellophane the marshmallow sandwiches are legal to toss from carnival floats, and the logo of a smiling moon could also represent the Crescent City.
Though not of New Orleans, Moon Pies are of the South. They are made in Chattanooga by the Chattanooga Bakery. A subsidiary of the Mountain City Flour Mill, the bakery was created in the early 1900s to find a use for the excess flour churned out by the mill. According to the company history, through the years, the bakery developed nearly 200 different sorts of confection items.
Moon Pies first rose over the Southern landscape in 1917. A true origin of the snack has never been documented although one story traced the origin to Earl Mitchell Sr., an early salesman for the bakery. While servicing his accounts in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, Mitchell visited a company store that catered to coal miners. He asked what type of snack miners might like and was told that they wanted something that could be put in their lunch box and that was solid and filling. Mitchell used his hands to suggest a proper size. As fate had it, at that moment the moon was rising. One of the miners responded by using his hands to frame the moon in the distance. “About that big!“ the miner supposedly answered.
Back at the bakery, Mitchell remembered the miners when he noticed some workers dipping graham crackers into marshmallow and laying them on the window sills to harden. One idea led to another until a second graham cracker was added and the whole thing dipped in chocolate. The rounded moon-shaped snacks were given to company salesmen who offered samples along their routes. Response was enthusiastic. The new product was so successful that by the late 1950s the bakery was making nothing but Moon Pies.
Around that time Moon Pies had been linked with another Southern product, Royal Crown Cola, a creation of the Union Bottling Works of Athens, Georgia. Moon Pie historians (and yes, there are some) note that the phrase “RC Cola and Moon Pie” was once popular throughout the South extolling an inexpensive snack combo.
Even cheaper is when the Moon Pies are caught off floats. Mobile pioneered the Moon Pie toss in its parade, but the flying confections can also be spotted in the New Orleans Carnival.
Carnival also introduces the ideal accompaniment for the doubloon-shaped confection. Save the RC to mix with Southern Comfort. To me, the best way to toast Mardi Gras’ closing hours is with a Moon Pie and champagne. Here the earthy, working- stiff qualities of the pie bows to the regal elegance of the bubbles as Carnival’s kingdom embraces the Southern heartland and the cosmopolitan port.
Moon Pie marketers have done what they can to keep up with modern times. The pies now come in double-decker size and in a variety of flavors. The cellophane wrapper announces the product as being, “The Only One on the Planet” and that the snack can be microwaved, though for no more than five to 15 seconds. “Big Snack; Great Value” the wrapper also says though completely overlooking another virtue: In New Orleans if you reach for one coming your way, you might snare a pair of beads too.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.