Celebrate the eclipse with Moon Pies and RC Colas

Monday, April 8, is definitely a day to celebrate the moon.

There’s a new moon, and this one is particularly special. When the moon’s path crosses the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun while the Earth, moon and sun are aligned at new moon, a solar eclipse happens somewhere in the world.

On that day this year the “somewhere in the world” is Charlotte and the Charlotte Senior Center will be closed all day so that people can appreciate this extraordinary event.

In trying to think of food to commemorate the day, moonfish and moonshine didn’t seem to work.

Then mooncakes came to mind. These traditional Chinese “cakes” made especially for the Autumn Moon Festival seem fitting for our special day. Along the Yangtze River, these round pastry shells are filled with lotus seed paste with whole pressed duck egg yolks.

Other fillings might be a paste made of dates or adzuki beans. All are imprinted with a special design on top, Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony.”

It’s quite a jump from these traditional mooncakes to Moon Pies, but even those of us who can resist the allure of this snack food made with graham crackers and marshmallow filling can appreciate its interesting history. Often associated with the American South, where, as if the sweet sticky filling weren’t enough, Moon Pies were traditionally accompanied by an RC Cola.

In the 1950s, Big Bill Lister’s “Gimme an RC Cola and a Moon Pie” became a hit.

In 1973, NRBQ came along with another hit with “An RC Cola and a Moon Pie”.

Since New Year’s Eve 2008, Mobile, Ala., has lowered a 12-foot-tall lighted mechanical Moon Pie to celebrate the coming new year. Before the drop, the world’s largest Moon Pie is sliced and pieces served to the public.

These days, Moon Pies are still made by the creator, Chattanooga Bakery in Chattanooga, Tenn. Their story is that they came up with the idea when a traveling salesman asked a Kentucky coal miner what kind of snack he’d like to eat to stave off hunger. The answer was something featuring graham crackers and marshmallows, incorporated in a cake “as big as the moon.”

There you have it.

The company celebrated its centennial with a “My Favorite Moon Pie Memory” contest, with a grand prize of a 100-year supply of moon pies. They didn’t specify just how many pies that amounts to, but Chattanooga Bakery bakes a million Moon Pies a day. Right now, they’re offering the Solar Eclipse Survival Kit in a black box. Plus T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Moon Pies’ five primary flavors are chocolate, vanilla, banana, strawberry and salted caramel. Coconut appears during Mardi Gras. Lemon and blueberry also appear seasonally throughout the year. In September 2017, with a nod to a pumpkin mania sweeping the country, the company released a pumpkin spice double-decker Moon Pie. It remains in the roster.

I admit to finding it disquieting that Moon Pie Inc. runs a website urging schools to run Moon Pie fund raisers, sending kids out into the community selling pies “fresh baked for your school.” There’s mention of a middle school that ordered moon pies for all their kids — to go along with their solar eclipse sunglasses. I’m happy to report that this school is not in Vermont.

Ron Dickson, who hoists the official Moon Pie flag on his sailboat, wrote “The Great American Moon Pie Handbook,” which includes “folklore and stories of spiritual enlightenment.” Dickson insists Moon Pies affect all aspects of life, including etiquette, courtship and childrearing. Among the practical uses he includes is marshmallow filling to patch a bicycle inner-tube leak.

Some might say: Better in your bicycle tube than in your belly.

In October 2016, at a World Moon Pie Eating Championship in Memphis, Matt “the Megatoad” Stonie downed 69 pies in eight minutes.

In nearby Bell Buckle, Tenn., with a listed population of 450, 10,000 people show up for the annual RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival. At 4 p.m. “the largest Moon Pie in the world” is sliced into pieces for the crowd to enjoy. If you’re interested, this year’s festival is on June 15. By then, you should be recovered from the deep-fried banana cornbread puffs at the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tenn., on April 27. (See “The Charlotte News,” in the March 21 edition.).

Perhaps @MoonPie, an occasional Twitter presence, got the last word. When someone started arguing about the merits of the confection, @MoonPie replied: “Buddy it’s saturday (sic) night and you’re talking to a marshmallow sandwich on the internet.”

Orson Welles made an interesting choice. According to Atlanta Magazine, in the first draft of the “Citizen Kane” screenplay, Charles Foster Kane’s last words were “Moon Pie,” not “Rosebud.”

As someone who has never eaten a Moon Pie, I admit to being glad Welles decided on another draft.

Check out the Charlotte Library for plenty of children’s books about the moon, including the 2017 Newbery title “The Girl Who Drank the Moon.”

Finally, as a prelude to April 8, enjoy some moon songs without RC Cola or marshmallows: