This summer I experienced one of the biggest disappointments in my life, right up there with finding out there’s no Tooth Fairy. On a blisteringly hot afternoon at a New Jersey gas station, while my partner filled the gas tank I ran inside for snacks. Right near the register there was a display of Moon Pies, both chocolate and vanilla flavors. My hand snaked out seemingly of its own volition and grabbed one of each.

“Are these any good?,” I asked the clerk. He assured me, speaking English with a heavy Pakistani accent, that each variety was equally delicious. So I grabbed a cola to go with them — not the RC Cola of song and story, alas — and raced out across pavement that would have scorched an egg, rather than fry it, for the blissful air-conditioning of the travel-ready truck.

Dear readers, I wanted so badly to believe the affable clerk, to bite into a confection that has been part of the narrative of every piece of Southern Gothic literature I remember and be blissfully transported, via olfactory and gustatory sensation, deep into the heart of Dixie. Allegedly a Moon Pie is a layer of marshmallow cream sandwiched between two graham cracker-like cookies, the whole thing then covered with chocolate. But the truth? Moon Pies are nasty — so nasty that, after sampling a bite of each of the dry, crumbly sorry excuses for junk food, we threw them away.

Lest you think our palates have become ultra-refined by eating the more refined versions of road food and snacks — Kind and Lara bars, baked organic non-GMO chips, sun-dried fruits coated with organic, responsibly sourced chocolate, be assured that our road-food selection can include Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets and Hostess Donettes — those enticing little donuts guaranteed to coat the entire passenger seat and its occupant with a fine snowfall of confectioners’ sugar. So I fully expected that Moon Pies would fill a gap in the snack rota. But I am forced to conclude that the source of Moon Pie and RC Cola’s lasting reputation stems largely from nostalgia, which is, I admit, a potent driver of affection.

After washing down the shards of Moon Pie with an equally disgusting soft drink, my partner and I reminisced about the snacks of our youth. I grew up in New England, where any kid with an allowance or a paper route had enough money for a daily treat containing what would today be considered a diabetes-inducing amount of sugar, enough sugar, as a friend puts it, to “crack your block.” I loved them all, especially the bright pink Hostess Sno Ball, which was an upside-down, jazzed-up Hostess CupCake, covered with coconut flakes and a layer of marshmallow, a topping that could be peeled off the underlying cake in a single rubbery sheet and swallowed down before consuming the underlying cake with its cream-filled center. The iconic Twinkie was just the naked vanilla version of this treat, and a Drake’s Devil Dog the chocolate version of the Twinkie.

If cloyingly sticky cake was not to your taste, there was always the Table Talk Pie, a four-inch confection that came in its own adorable tiny tin. The gluey apple, blueberry or cherry fillings encased in a sturdy pastry seemed a tad more wholesome than the spongy cake confections, and you could toss the miniature tin around after its contents were gone, thus anticipating the Frisbee, which was the name of the original pie company, bought out by Table Talk in the 1950s.







My partner, a Pennsylvania native, is the Tastykake connoisseur, as they were a Pittsburgh product. The company’s products include faux-Twinkies and Devil Dogs, as well as their signature Krimpet spongecakes. But whether it’s Tastykakes, Hostess, Table Talk, or Moon Pie that was the brand of your youth, all share some amazing similarities. All owe some of their popularity to their small size and portability, the ease with which they can be popped into a lunchbox. Some saw a huge boost in sales when they were shipped off to soldiers in World War II and another boost when the post-war rationing ended and people could indulge their sweet tooth at a very reasonable price. Another fact most of them share is that they’ve been in business for over a century. Take that fact and stuff it in your all-organic, locavore, gluten-free, vegan pipe and smoke it.

Look at the vile Moon Pies, first introduced in 1917 in Tennessee by the Chattanooga Bakery, which is still producing over a million pies a day. Hostess brand snacks date back to 1849, when Robert B. Ward founded a small bakery on Broome Street in Lower Manhattan that went on to become a baking empire that sold a cream-filled yellow spongecake around the world. After many ups and downs, bankruptcies and change of ownership, in 2016 Hostess Brands agreed to sell a majority stake of its company to a private equity firm and the snacks roll on.

Tastykakes have the most amazing story of all. The company was founded in 1914, and the latest iteration is located in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, where it started with an abandoned industrial site and reused the buildings as foundation material for a new bakery that earned LEED Silver Certification (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council). Its complex includes a white, reflective roof that minimizes heat-absorbing surfaces; no-mow, drought-resistant grass that uses less water; wood from certified sustainable sources that work to conserve trees; paint and carpeting with low chemical content that reduce ear, nose and throat irritation; covered parking lot lights that reduce light pollution; bike racks and access to public transportation that reduce vehicle usage and pollution; and a heat-recycling system that reduces the amount of energy needed to bake their cakes. All of this insanely healthy environment and they still produce nothing but nutritionally bereft sugar bombs, albeit ones packaged in recyclable cartons and cases, which save trees.

Could we possibly end this discussion without mentioning Maine’s whoopie pie? I think not. In my imagination, I thought a Moon Pie would be a Southern cousin of the whoopie, but I was wrong — very wrong. Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia and New Hampshire all claim to be the birthplace of the whoopie pie, but Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston has been making the confection since 1925. Most whoopies are two layers of moist chocolate cake, filled with a generous amount of cream filling, but Cape Whoopies, in South Portland, raises the bar with decadent, gourmet pies that include the classic chocolate cake with Madagascar vanilla cream or chocolate filling, Granny Smith apple-spiced cakes with caramel cream, chocolate chip cakes with vanilla cream, and vanilla cakes with vanilla cream and a layer of fudge. These kinds of confections may not fill the pages of literature, but I have to say that they’re the only snack cake I’d pair with a cup of freshly brewed single-source coffee.