Ask many a Southerner what you get when you combine chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow, and if you're not from the region you might be surprised by the answer. No, we're not talking about s'mores here. We're talking about the MoonPie. Never heard of this sweet delicacy? Here's a primer:
What makes a MoonPie?
It's not rocket science. The three aforementioned ingredients — chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow — come together to form a holy trinity of sorts. Why isn't this a s'more? Well, the construction is different, and the texture of the final product is much softer than that of the crunchy campfire staple. Marshmallow is sandwiched between two round graham cracker cookies, and the whole thing is coated in a thin layer of the chocolate. While s'mores should be enjoyed as a homemade confectionary — please do not spend $25 on a store-bought version — the MoonPie is definitely a pre-packaged product.
Where do MoonPies come from?
Chattanooga Bakery handles the production, as it's done since the MoonPie company came to be in 1917. Earlier that year, as legend has it, traveling salesman Earl Mitchell asked a Kentucky coal miner what he might like to eat for a snack. The response: graham cracker and marshmallow dipped in chocolate. When asked how large this product should be, the miner responded either by framing the moon with his hands or declaring, "as big as the moon." Mitchell reported back to the bakery, and Southern cuisine had a new icon.
What pairs well with a MoonPie?
Let's allow honky tonk legend Big Bill Lister to answer this one.
Sticking with tradition, if you're eating a MoonPie, you should be washing it down with an ice cold RC Cola. The South's most famous soft drink is Coca-Cola, which comes from Atlanta. But Royal Crown Cola, invented in 1905 by pharmacist Claud A. Hatcher a couple of hours down the road from Atlanta in Columbus, Ga., gets top billing for this meal.
It was 1951 when Lister first sang about the sugary combination — seriously, don't look at the nutrition labels if you're indulging — but it isn't clear when, exactly, the two came together. Some speculate the low cost of each product made it an ideal lunch for a poor Southerner in the first half of the 20th century. RC Cola was a cheaper alternative to Coca-Cola, making it the favored beverage for those who were hit hard by the great depression.
What makes MoonPies special?
Sure, there are similar products from other parts of the world. Mallowmars come from New York, but they are much more marshmallow-forward. Wagon Wheels are available internationally and feature a similar profile to the MoonPie, but they were "invented" long after the Southern favorite, in 1948. Choco Pies are popular in South Korea, but they were directly inspired by the MoonPie. There are alternatives, but for anyone who hails from the American South, there is no substitute.
Are there other flavors?
Over the years, more and more variations on the original have been introduced. Now one can find MoonPies with the chocolate replaced by caramel; vanilla; and fruit-based flavorings such as strawberry, banana, and orange. And they're available in more sizes, ranging from a giant double-decker MoonPie to a mini version. However, it's best to ignore these innovations and stick with the original.
What's the best way to eat a MoonPie?
There's nothing wrong with tearing open the package and diving right in, but for anyone who can show a tiny bit of patience, there is a better way. Open it up, throw it in the microwave for about 10 seconds, and enjoy a warm MoonPie that's on a completely different level. While it's cooking, the marshmallow will expand and appear to be on the verge of exploding, but once the microwave stops, it will return to its original form.