Food with Fred: Celebrating 100 years of the Moon Pie

This year, the South’s favorite chocolate-covered marshmallow treat turns 100.

Fred Sauceman joined us on News Channel 11 at Noon to reveal the history of the Moon Pie. Fred Sauceman provided us with an article he wrote about the sweet treat.

The Chattanooga Bakery once turned out Butterette Dainties, Imp Ginger Snaps, Lookout Brand Lemon Drop Cakes, Mace Jumbles, Jersey Cream Lunch Biscuits, and Lookout Bran Biscuits, known as the Cracker of Life. But by the late 1950s, the markets for all those products had crumbled, in favor of the chocolate-covered marshmallow sandwich known as the MoonPie, born in 1917 and celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

The Chattanooga Bakery was founded in the early 1900s to use excess flour produced by the Mountain City Flour Mill. As Tory Johnston, current vice president of marketing for MoonPie, explains, the MoonPie first took shape in coal-mining country, when Earl Mitchell, general manager of the Mountain City Flour Mill, was working a sales route in Eastern Kentucky.

“He was talking to coal miners at a little country store, and at the time our sales in that area were slowing down. He asked the miners what they would like to see the company make, and a coal miner said he loved melting marshmallow and dipping Graham crackers in it. As the legend goes, he described what the product might be. He didn’t say round or anything at the time. He said it just needs to be those flavors, marshmallow and graham, dipped in chocolate.

“The miner said everybody’s cutting sizes back, and you need to make it big. The moon was coming up over the horizon, and he said, ‘Why don’t you make it that big?’ He framed the moon with his fingers, with his rounded hands. Earl Mitchell finished his sales calls, came back and shared that story inside the bakery, and as it turned out, we could in fact make what was described. We could put marshmallow on or in a graham cookie and dunk it in chocolate. Some person in the plant, we’ll never know who, said ‘You ought to call it a MoonPie.’ Luckily for us, somebody had the foresight and the wisdom to trademark it.”

Tory was born in Chattanooga, where he says he grew to appreciate the lore and the stature of MoonPies. In 1997, he became MoonPie’s first marketing person.

“The owner of MoonPie called, and this is a stunning thing, he said we’ve never had a marketing person,” Tory told me. “He said it’s getting more competitive and we can’t continue to succeed on our name and the fact that we’re this wonderful, loved snack. We’ve got to get a lot more pro-active and a lot more professional about it.”

And as for the legendary pairing of MoonPies with Royal Crown Cola, David Magee, in his book MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack, says the relationship between the two products is something neither the MoonPie people nor the RC people ever promoted with advertising money. In the aftermath of World War II and the Great Depression, a dime bought both—a filling, portable snack and a cold soft drink. It was the working person’s lunch.

On a tour of the MoonPie plant, Tory and I follow the path of a 2,000-pound mass of raw dough as it’s massaged and stamped into MoonPies. We pass a 200-foot-long oven and what Tory calls a waterfall of flavor, a solid curtain of chocolate. From that original chocolate icing, the product line has expanded to banana, orange, vanilla, lemon, strawberry, and salted caramel. Sizes now range from mini to single-decker to double-decker.

I’m always amazed at the number of people who don’t know about the transformation that occurs when MoonPies marry with microwaves. A MoonPie is matte finish. Expose it to microwave heat and the icing becomes high gloss, the marshmallow filling a viscous, luscious goo.

“I don’t know how it started, but everybody, even in this building, will tell you it’s the best way to eat a MoonPie,” Tory says as we walk through the Chattanooga plant. “Even if it’s a stale MoonPie, even if it’s past its code date, microwaving brings it right back to its youth. It is decadent. A lot of people will put ice cream on it and make their own little sundaes, with a cherry on top.”

Since its introduction 100 years ago, the MoonPie has become one of the South’s most recognizable symbols. Although it was created as simply a way to deal with extra supplies of flour, the product captivated consumers from the start. And dietary fads and trends have never diminished that passion. Chattanooga Bakery now turns out about a million MoonPies every day.

The above segment was provided by Fred Sauceman, author of Buttermilk & Bible Burgers: More Stories from the Kitchens of Appalachia.

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