Out of This World
As any Southerner knows, the most important part of life in the region is our food. We even speak differently about meals down here. What other folks call “lunch,” we call dinner, and while people in Chicago or New York are eating “dinner,” we’re eating supper. When Mom called us to supper, we’d stop playing cowboys or James Bond and run inside to a table full of Southern treats: okra, butter beans, ham or fried chicken, tomatoes, squash, biscuits or cornbread, red velvet cake, sweet tea, and milk or buttermilk. Dinner was even better, especially on Sundays. We’d have two or three kinds of meat, lots of vegetables—collard greens, black-eyed peas, okra, sweet potatoes—biscuits, cornbread, three or four kinds of desserts, and ice-cold pitchers of tea.
In almost any Southern novel, you’ll find moveable feasts. Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and its “sequel,” Of Time and the River contain some of the most luscious descriptions of feasts in all of literature. John Edge, whom the Miami Herald calls “the Faulkner of Southern Food,” takes us into the heart of Southern eating in his now-revised Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South. He has also written about Fried Chicken: An American Story as well as about hamburgers and fries, donuts, and apple pie.
There are also food products you can only find in the South. I grew up in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (though I lived in Atlanta, which is in many ways a small Southern town that never grew up that retains its parochialism). There were restaurants in the places I lived that were unique to the town. Piggie Park, Maurice Bessinger’s premier barbeque restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina, is the only place in the world to get true barbeque. Nothing can compare to it. Maurice now bottles his mustard-based sauce and sells it online for those of us Southerners who now have to eat what passes for barbeque in the Midwest and the North. Salisbury, North Carolina is the home to some of the sweetest tasting nectar in a bottle, Cheerwine. You can still get the original formula in bottles in a few places in North Carolina. Fast food’s Bojangles serves the heart-stopping and whopping biscuit and egg all day in a few Southern states only. Krispy Kreme donuts used to be a treat for folks going to the Carolinas, but now you can get boxes in most grocery stores in the US. Too bad; the best thing about Krispy Kreme stores are their hot and tasty donut signs that indicate hot donuts are rolling off the conveyor belt.
Perhaps the most recognizable Southern food—now available around the country—is the MoonPie. Marshmallow squeezed between two graham crackers and coated with chocolate, the MoonPie has started off many a Southern child’s day or sustained him or her through dinner (lunch for everybody else) time. Of course, you can’t have a MoonPie without downing it with an ice-cold R.C. Cola (in a bottle, of course). A MoonPie and an RC are the quintessential Southern food.
Now, in an entertaining book—MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-this-world Snack by David Magee (University Press of Florida; $14.95)—about this moon-shaped snack, David Magee, a self-described MoonPie addict, and a columnist for the Chattanooga Free Press, tells us everything we always wanted to know about the Moon Pie.
The snack was developed in 1917 and continues to be made by the Chattanooga Bakery. Magee weaves testimony from MoonPie aficionados into his narrative of the history of the snack. It derived its name form one of the original owners of the bakery who looked at the moon through his hands and found a shape just right that folks could hold and eat. Although the bakery originally made more than MoonPies, the snack food soon became so popular that the company was producing only MoonPies. The snack can now be bought in a double-decker form, an original form, a mini-pie, and you can now get chocolate, vanilla, and banana flavors.
Here are a few MoonPie facts:
Because of the amount of sandwich filling it uses to make more than 100 million MoonPies annually, Chattanooga Bakery is believed to be one of the largest producers of marshmallow in the world.
Many people think of the MoonPie as a Southern snack, but the original marshmallow sandwich has, in fact, been sold and consumed nationally since the 1950s.
The MoonPie has a shelf-life of four months, one of the secrets to the enduring snack’s success.
MoonPies have been prominently featured in several popular songs, including Lonzo and Oscar’s 1951 hit, “Give Me an RC Cola and a MoonPie,” and Alabama’s 2001 cut, “When It All Goes South.”
So, next time you have a craving for filling snack, curl up with Magee’s book as you slowly graze your way through your Moon Pie and R.C.
Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Contact Henry.