Mississippi mud pie is a dessert with a history as murky as the waters of its namesake. Not to be confused with dirt cake or mud cake (no gummy worms) or even Mississippi mud cake, this beloved pie has been re-interpreted countless times, and always with different results. Here's a primer on the dessert claimed by the state of Mississippi but enjoyed from coast to coast.
What is Mississippi mud pie?
According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, Mississippi mud pie is a rich chocolate dessert "variously composed of pudding, cake, biscuits, ice cream, whipped cream, marshmallows, and liqueur presented in a cookie crust." The pie is often built in layers, and topped with chocolate syrup, pecan, almonds, marshmallows, or chocolate shavings. Creative bakers have also been known to used miso, coffee grounds and bourbon in upgraded iterations of this humble pie.
Does it go by any other name?
In different forms Mississippi mud pie sometimes takes on alternative names. Those who forego the pie crust may call this treat "Chocolate Lasagna" or "Mississippi mud cake." Country crooner even Dolly Parton supplies a recipe for the latter version.
When and where did Mississippi mud pie originate?
Like many infamous and beloved dishes, the when and where of Mississippi mud pie's origins are unclear. Some think Mississippi mud pie is a 1970s reincarnation of Mississippi mud cake, which appeared in the World War II era. Thrifty women on the homefront might have developed the mud cake recipe in their search for ways to make desserts with cheap ingredients already available in their scanty wartime pantries.
However, in 1988, John Chapman, chef of Chappy's Seafood Restaurant at the time, told Newsday mud pie was invented in the Vicksburg-Natchez area near Jackson, Mississippi, much longer ago:
"When the [Mississippi] river was low and it was around a hundred degrees people would go out on the levee — there usually was a dock to sit on — put their feet down in the mud, the coolest place in Mississippi, and eat some watermelon. Then came the mud pie."
Our Fifty States corroborates Chapman's claim with the story of Jenny Meyer, who lost her Greenville home when the mighty Mississippi flooded in the spring of 1927. She found work as a waitress in Vicksburg and was allegedly the first to liken a melting chocolate pie to the Mississippi's muddy banks.
But Craig Claiborne, acclaimed food editor, wrote in his book Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking:
"Although I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, I never heard of a Mississippi mud pie or a Mississippi mud cake until I moved North and became food editor of The New York Times. It is conceivable that they existed, but no amount of research has revealed to me whether they did or if these are recent creations that came about during my adulthood. Nevertheless, they are both rich as Croesus and many people find them delectable."
According to Claiborne, he sought to learn more about the elusive dessert. He published a question in The Times: "Is there such a thing as a mud pie?" Later in 1981, he wrote that he had received "scores of recipes from all over the nation," which soundly proved its existence.
Perhaps we'll never know the story behind the pie, but everyone at least agrees it is named for the dark, goopy mud found along the Mississippi River.
Where can you taste it?
Rowdy's Family Restaurant: 60 Highway 27, Vicksburg, Miss.
Mary Mahoney's Old French House: 110 Rue Magnolia St., Biloxi, Miss.
Pie In The Sky: 3600 North Loop 336 West, Conroe, Texas. Mail order available.
Little Pie Company: 424 West 43 St., New York, N.Y. Mail order available.