A MoonPie Timeline: Heres a look at Chattanooga Bakery through the years.
• 1902: Chattanooga Bakery opens.
• 1917: The first MoonPies roll out of the factory and onto store shelves.
• 1932: At the height of the Depression, you could get a MoonPie for a nickel.
• 1934: RC Cola was introduced and immediately became paired with MoonPies.
• 1950s: By the middle of the decade, MoonPie’s have become so popular, Chattanooga Bakery ceases making its 200 other baked products to keep up with demand.
• 1974: The Double-Decker MoonPie is introduced.
• 1998: Mini MoonPies hit the market. Also, The Tennessee VOLS win the NCAA National Championship, and 4 million specially-made orange MoonPies are delivered to hungry fans.
• 1999: MoonPies are designated the official snack cake of NASCAR.
• 2017: MoonPies turn 100 and Chattanooga Bakery plans a year-long celebration of everything MoonPie, including test-marketing a new pie made using the original recipe.
2017 promises to be a stellar year for Chattanooga Bakery
MoonPie, a seemingly humble confection of marshmallow creme, graham cracker and chocolate, celebrates its 100 birthday. And what a celestial celebration it will be as it enters another century, joining America’s centenarian set without slowing down.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have come alive with MoonPie trivia and events, and on store shelves and in Moon Pie stores, new commemorative packaging can be found, as well as collectible tins filled with the beloved little pies.
“We’re excited that our opening weekend, April 29-30, coincides with the 100th anniversary of Moon Pie – it’s an internationally recognized icon, and we can’t think of a more fitting place to celebrate with 20,000 of our closest friends,” says Chris Thomas, executive director of Public Markets Inc., which operates Chattanooga Market.
Sam Campbell, Chattanooga Bakery president, looks forward to a weekend of hometown family fun when Chattanooga Market opens for the season.
“It’ll be about all things MoonPie!” he says. “We’ll be sampling all sorts of MoonPie food items, special commemorative items will be for sale, and there will be special MoonPie-themed gift items from the market vendors.”
But that’s not all. There will be recipe contests, music and several of the world’s largest MoonPies.
“It’s an opportunity for us to thank our incredible hometown and our fabulous associates who all helped us reach our 100th birthday,” Campbell adds.
MoonPies are sold in 45 states and are celebrated in untold numbers of ways. There are MoonPie drops on New Years Eve, including Moon Over Mobile in Alabama; an annual MoonPie Festival in Bell Buckle, Tennessee; a MoonPie Run in Clemson, South Carolina; and more.
“We are grateful for any attention, and we benefit from a way-outsized amount of great publicity because of our unique and funny name and what our product means to people of all ages,” Campbell says. “When you say MoonPie, you first get a smile, then a memory.”
MoonPie is, no doubt, a Southern staple. And it all began in Chattanooga.
The moon rises over Chattanooga
The creation of MoonPies was “a serendipitous happening, as best we know” Campbell says.
The story goes that the bakery sent a salesman, Earl Mitchell, to the Kentucky mountains to sell some of Chattanooga Bakery’s products, mostly cookies and snack crackers, but couldn’t convince everyone to buy. But the salesman persevered and eventually ran into a coal miner who didn’t want cookies or crackers. Rather, he wanted a big round cookie filled with marshmallow and covered with chocolate. Then looked to the sky and said, “And make it as big and round as the moon.” And that’s the way it happened in 1917. “Or something close to it,” Campbell adds.
For years, there was just one MoonPie from which to choose, but as MoonPie rocketed into a national phenomena- about 1 million are made every day- the line expanded and now includes mini MoonPies; different flavors, including salted caramel, strawberry, vanilla and banana; and even MoonPie ice cream sandwiches.
“People like variety so we are happy to provide them,” Campbell says, adding that while chocolate is the biggest seller, vanilla is his personal favorite.
But that’s not all. Visit any MoonPie store- in downtown Chattanooga; Charleston, South Carolina; Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Lynchburg, Tennessee; and a new one in Mobile- and you’ll find MoonPie key chains, koozies, T-shirts, and hats. Golf balls, too, sport MoonPie’s logo.
All in the family
The Campbell family opened Chattanooga Bakery in 1902 under the leadership of Sam Campbell and his wife, Harriett. Now, five generations later, the bakery, a large plant located on Chattanooga’s Northshore, is under the direction of Sam Campbell IV.
“It’s a privilege and a blessing to do things our way with a wonderful bunch of teammates all moving the boat down the river as efficiently as possible,” Campbell says. “Plus, it’s wonderful to have something of value to pass along to the next generation of family members.”
But, he adds, since MoonPies didn’t become ingrained in Southern culture until the mid-1950s, he doubts his great great-grandparents would have even dreamed they would become as popular as they are today.
In the 100-year history, the Campbell family has heard varying questions and comments regarding MoonPies. Most often, Campbell says, people want to know if it’s like a s’more.
“And of course, we always get the ‘I-love-it-best-with-RC Cola’ comments, based on that legendary pairing from the 1970’s–1990’s in Southern culture,” Campbell says.
But the funniest of all questions comes from those who think one MoonPie is never enough.
“They ask, ‘Hey, since marshmallows are fat-free, I can eat all of the MoonPies I want, right?'”
Though MoonPies are the primary snacks baked there, Chattanooga Bakery also produces pecan and coconut tarts under the Lookout label, as well as Betsy’s Cheese Straws, the latter of which is sold in higher-end markets.
What’s Old is New Again
Since its infancy in 1917, the basic recipe for MoonPies has remained the same. The only real change that’s been made is in the quality of ingredients that can be found today, Campbell says.
But in celebration of its 100th year, Chattanooga Bakery will be testing a “new” MoonPie reverting to the original recipe, using sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup and adding no preservatives or artificial colors and flavorings.
“We’re levering the clean-eating trend that’s taking place across America,” says Tory Johnston, vice-president of marketing at Chattanooga Bakery.
The “new” product is being test-marketed this year in key cities, including Chattanooga.
MoonPie are for more than snacking. Over its 100-year history, clever cooks have devised many delicious ways to serve them, such as in this amazing cheesecake.
Peanut Butter Moon Pie Cheesecake
1 ¾ cups chocolate cookie crumbs
2 tablespoons dark muscavado or light brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
4 chocolate MoonPies
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl and toss till crumbs are damp. Lightly press them into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan, covering the bottom and going up the sides of the pan about two inches or so. Put that in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
Mix the cream cheese in a stand-mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the sugar. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure all the ingredients are well combined. Turn the mixer back onto medium speed and add in the peanut butter.
Pour enough cheesecake filling over the cookie crust to cover it by about an inch. A little more is okay. Arrange the MoonPies on top of the cheesecake. Pour the rest of the cheesecake filling over the MoonPies, spreading to the edges. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the cheescake is set. Let the cheesecake cool completely and refrigerate overnight.
Note: If desired, make a chocolate ganache and pour it over the cheesecake before refrigerating. To make ganache: Melt 4 ounce bittersweet chocolate with a splash of heavy cream in the microwave on high for about 90 seconds. Stir until the chocolate and cream are combined. Pour over the cheesecake and spread evenly over the top.
Photography courtesy of MoonPie