Mardi Gras is synonymous with certain foods and places—king cake and New Orleans top the list. Most people don’t think of MoonPies and Mobile, Alabama, but in fact, they both have a long-standing connection with Fat Tuesday.
Mardi Gras’ Mobile Beginnings
The very first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was in Mobile, Alabama, all the way back in 1703, well before New Orleans was even founded (in 1718). The early processions weren’t quite the grand spectacles you see today, but they were the start of it all, and little by little, lots of specific Mardi Gras parade traditions were established and added to. Most of them are still a vital part of the celebration today.
Take, for instance, “throws”—the trinkets thrown from floats to all the people watching on the sidelines. The custom seems to have started in the 1870s, and although beads may be the most well-known throw today, there are lots of other items tossed to spectators too, from plastic cups and foam footballs to food.
Perhaps the most popular edible item that gets chucked into the crowd is the MoonPie (which, despite auto-correct’s insistence on underlining it in red squiggles, is the official spelling). Obviously, this is a relatively recent evolution of the long-standing “throws” tradition, since MoonPies are a 20th century foodstuff.
MoonPie On the Rise
The MoonPie—two soft graham cracker cookies sandwiching squishy-but-stable marshmallow filling, all enrobed in a thin, chocolatey shell—came to be in 1917, when a traveling salesman from the Chattanooga Bakery encountered a Kentucky coal miner who expressed a desire for a hearty, portable snack, about the size of the moon. The famous result of that request cost just 5 cents when it was introduced, and quickly became a Southern staple. In the 1950s, the classic combo of MoonPies and RC Cola (another good bang-for-your-buck convenience store snack) was even immortalized in a country song by Big Bill Lister.
The Chattanooga Bakery eventually added the miniature MoonPie to their offerings, allegedly in response to grumblings that the full-size pies were ruining kids’ appetites. Happily, these smaller treats would also prove to be perfect for throwing into crowds.
A Match Made in Heaven
So Mardi Gras and MoonPies both became beloved Southern institutions over the course of many decades, on separate paths. But how did those paths meet?
Well, that was in Mobile, too, where grand Mardi Gras parades continued to be held, even though New Orleans eclipsed them in national and global recognition.
Cracker Jack had been a popular Mardi Gras throw; it was affordable enough to give away and delicious enough to appeal to most everyone, but the bulky boxes were hard to aim accurately and the corners could be painful when they hit people in the head. It was such a problem that Mobile banned the tossing of Cracker Jack boxes in 1972. Smaller, softer, blessedly round MoonPies were a safer option, and they were already a long-cherished Southern delight, so they became the standard sweet treat thrown off of floats in Mobile. Once again, New Orleans followed suit—so if you’re in the Big Easy for the occasion, you’re likely to catch at least one MoonPie when you cry, “Throw me something, mister!” And of course, you can still snatch them from the air in Mobile, too.
More Ways to Eat MoonPies
Since the introduction of the classic chocolate flavor, there have been countless variations on the MoonPie: banana, coconut, salted caramel, strawberry…and while they’re all good as-is, if you’re near a microwave, try heating one up for a few seconds, so it’s a little like an inside-out s’more. But if you’re a bit more ambitious, you can also enjoy more elaborate desserts inspired by (and sometimes actually using) MoonPies—just the thing for a Mardi Gras party at home!
These homemade MoonPies combine whole wheat graham cracker cookies, fluffy marshmallow, bittersweet chocolate, and rich caramel. (If you’re gluten-free, just add some caramel to these GF Moon Pies if you like.) Get the recipe.
Banana pudding is another Southern dessert staple, but this ingenious version switches out the usual vanilla wafers for classic chocolate and banana MoonPies (plus, there are several other amazing Mardi Gras treats at the link, including a MoonPie Martini and King Cake MoonPies). Get the recipe.
If you love a layer cake but prefer banana MoonPies, try this recipe. For chocolate diehards, this beauty really takes the…well, you know. Feel free to make extra ganache and fully cover the sides of the cake for a more traditional MoonPie look (and in order to eat more chocolate too, always a plus). Get the recipe.
Chunks of MoonPie generously stud this creamy brown butter ice cream, for a sophisticated yet unpretentious dessert. Get the recipe.
For a fancier inside-out version that’s all made from scratch, try these chocolate peanut butter Moon Pies, but if you’re a fan of shortcuts, twist apart some Golden Oreos and add marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, and Nutella, then sandwich back together and dip in chocolate bark. Feel free to skip the Nutella and/or scrape out the original creme filling if you think this might be too sweet. Get the recipe.
And finally, here’s a more convoluted way to enjoy the perennial pairing of MoonPies and RC Cola, the former baked into a buttery bread pudding and the latter mixed with powdered sugar for a sticky-sweet glaze to pour over top. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of MoonPie.