Category Archives: Bakery News

MoonPie Drop, Mobile, AL

Here’s an inventive use for a staple snack: Drop a giant MoonPie from a tall building to mark the New Year.

by Bakery Boy

Everyone knows about the giant crystal ball that descends in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but have you heard of the giant MoonPie Over Mobile that serves a similar purpose down South?

A stylized MoonPie 12 feet across and suspended 34 stories above Mobile will "drop" on New Year's Eve at midnight. Photo courtesy of the City of Mobile

As midnight approaches on December 31 in downtown Mobile, Alabama, a huge, shining, plastic, electrified likeness of a MoonPie — measuring 12 feet across, weighing 350 pounds, and brightly illuminated from within — drops from the top of the 34-story RSA BankTrust building. It plummets 317 feet in 60 seconds and stops at the 6th floor, directly above a crowd of street-party revelers on St. Joseph Street and St. Francis Street, just as the countdown ends and both January 1 and fireworks begin.

There it goes, a giant MoonPie plunging downward along a corner of Mobile's second-tallest building. Photo courtesy of the City of Mobile

The free event, which drew an estimated 40,000 people last year, begins with a 7:30 p.m. parade, continues through a series of live concerts and a laser lights show, peaks with the midnight MoonPie Drop, and concludes with wee-hours restaurant and bar hopping. This year’s featured band is Three Dog Night, which will undoubtedly play suited-to-the-occasion hits “Joy to the World” and “Celebrate” and, who knows, might even play “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” and “An Old Fashioned Love Song” too.


You might be asking: What does MoonPie have to do with Mobile?

Try to follow this reasoning: 1) Mobile hosted the America’s first Mardi Gras celebration in 1703, before nearby New Orleans began its famous version, and takes great pride in the long-running annual tradition. 2) MoonPie is a favorite treat for Mardi Gras parade-float riders to throw to people who line Mobile streets and watch. 3) Mobilians typically consume more than four million MoonPies annually, and many consider the cellophane-wrapped goodie to be an unofficial emblem of the city. 4) If MoonPies are good enough for Mardi Gras, they’re good enough for New Year’s too. 5) Hey, does anyone really need a reason to do silly things like this on New Year’s Eve?

Mobile's pie-in-the-sky electric MoonPie, all aglow on New Year's Eve. Photo by Tad Denson

MoonPie aficionados (they are legion) will point out that the MoonPie is more closely related to Chattanooga, Tennessee. That’s where the iconic chocolate-covered-graham-cracker-and-marshmallow sandwich cookie originated in 1917 and where Chattanooga Bakery Inc. continues to produce them at the rate of about a million a day. The bakery teamed with Mobile to create the giant electric MoonPie for dropping during the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

With that cleared up, one  key question remains. Will you wash down your celebratory New Year’s Eve MoonPie with RC Cola or champagne? Either drink goes well with it. Happy 2012!


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Vintage Bakery Sign Restored in Bessemer, AL

A 3-digit phone number. Coke for a nickel. Simpler times. A vintage sign recently restored on the side of an Alabama building recalls Square Deal Bakery circa 1922.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

The phone number with just three digits and the nickel Coke got my attention. I’m not old enough to remember when either was common, but somehow the combination hit my nostalgia button.

A recently restored 1911 commercial sign filling the side of a small building in downtown Bessemer, Alabama—the city immediately west of Birmingham—brings to mind simpler times. Based on a newspaper photo from 1922, the retouched brick wall at the corner of 19th Street North and Alabama Avenue features the words Square Deal Bakery prominently at top center, along with a Coca-Cola ad, a giant 5¢ symbol, and the name Sam Raine & Co., a former owner of the single-story structure. Bright green, red, yellow, and white paint true to the period make it stand out in a district of less-flashy red brick shops, offices, and warehouses.

My favorite part is the message “FRESH BREAD & CAKES” followed by “PHONE 983” in the top right corner. Aside from the unintended double meaning (were fresh bread and cakes supposed to call?) it’s funny to think of such a short phone number. But then, with today’s cell phones, whereby frequent contacts are preset to as little as one speed-dial click, maybe we’ve gotten back to simpler times after all, even if through a far more advanced technology.

Dr. Richard Neely, a historian who teaches at Indian Springs School and a member of the Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association (which bought paint for the project), completed the task earlier this month with help from his brother, actor John Neely, and other volunteers. Both men love history and have time on their hands during the summer, so they’ve made a hobby of restoring vintage signs. Adjacent to the Square Deal Bakery sign, on a defunct freight depot, stands last summer’s project proclaiming a century-ago wine and whiskey distributor in equally bright colors. Other Neely-brothers efforts include building-size ads at historic Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham and a 1913 ad in Marion County.

“We volunteer our time. We don’t get paid. We just enjoy doing this,” says Dr. Neely. “Our history is fading out all around us. We take a little bit of time, if people will let us, to restore some of these historic signs.”

One of the aims of the Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association, he points out, is to preserve historic structures. Outdoor advertising was a relatively new part of the culture of the early 20th century, so preserving such signs is appropriate.

Exactly when the building, located next to busy railroad tracks, was constructed isn’t clear, possibly around the turn of the century. The restoration mirrors the sign as seen in the background of a 1922 newspaper photo that appeared with an article about a man getting electrocuted on overhead power lines. (That’s a whole ’nother story.  If you’re interested, see the original photo preserved at the Bessemer Hall of History Museum in the old Bessemer Depot directly across Alabama Avenue from the restored sign.)

Square Deal Bakery has been gone for decades but is not forgotten. As I photographed the sign, an elderly man asked what I was doing. He then told me, pointing south across the railroad tracks, that he’d grown up in a house just a few blocks away. He recalls fondly that as a child he could walk from his home to the bakery and two movie theaters nearby. “In the 1930s,” he said, “19th Street on a Saturday night was so busy that the sidewalks would overflow and people spilled out into the street. Of course, there weren’t as many cars then, so that wasn’t a problem.”

The building currently holds four small storefronts, but Square Deal Bakery and the John Raine Co. aren’t among them. Instead there’s River’s Tailor Shop (alterations), Cal’s Ego (clothing), Just About Everything (faxing, typing, and laminating services, plus Avon products), and an empty. It’s not exactly a hopping part of town, but it’s less than three blocks south of the famous Bright Star Restaurant, a dining institution founded in 1907 that last year earned a prestigious culinary award from the James Beard Foundation (category: America’s Classics, honoring restaurants with “timeless appeal”). If you eat at The Bright Star, swing south on 19th Street, turn left on Alabama Avenue just before the tracks, and check out the restored Square Deal Bakery sign.

I’m tempted to dial Square Deal’s three-digit phone number just to see what happens. Probably an endless pause as our modern communication system awaits more numbers. Maybe, though, by way of some unexplainable Twilight Zone connection, I’ll be patched through to the ghost of a bakery from the past, where I can order bread and cakes and, when I go to pick them up, grab a Coke for just a nickel too.


The restored Square Deal Bakery sign is located at the corner of 19th Street North and Alabama Avenue, facing well-trafficked railroad tracks and the old Bessemer Depot, now home to the Bessemer Hall of History Museum (205-426-1633).


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Open House at Artisan Bakeries

Loaves at Artisan Baking Company, Fort Worth, Texas

Taste exceptional breads and show your support for artisan bakers during this widespread June 25 event.

by Bakery Boy

If you enjoy fresh-from-the-oven breads—crusty, aromatic, well-fermented, and hearth-baked by bakers who care dearly about making perfect loaves—then mark June 25 as a high holiday on your calendar.

The International Bakery Open House is one of many Breadville USA events planned this year by the Bread Bakers Guild of America

That’s the day the Bread Bakers Guild of America—an organization that fervently supports the artisan baking community everywhere—presents a massive International Bakery Open House involving 55 bakeries in 26 states, 2 Canadian provinces, and Ireland.

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International Biscuit Festival, Knoxville, TN

Celebration puts the humble biscuit on a pedestal May 27-28, 2011

by Bakery Boy

The Fat Elvis Biscuit, one of many versions of the tasty art form tempting visitors during the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville. Photos courtesy of the Biscuit Festival

I’d like to say I’ve never met a biscuit I didn’t like. I’ve eaten plenty of them, making my own on many a Sunday morning and seeking them out in my travels. True, a few needed a tad more jam to make them palatable, but even the driest and toughest variations mellow over time into something at least close to fond memories. Most of them time, biscuits rank among the glories that make life worth living. Call them simple fare, the perfect food, everyone’s favorite, or just too good to pass up—just be sure to call me when they’re done.

The International Biscuit Festival celebrates all things biscuits in Knoxville, Tennessee, this weekend (May 27-28, 2011). Held downtown in the Market Square District, the event designed to “celebrate the heritage of home cooking and southern culture” spares no effort in making biscuits the topic on everyone’s mind and the taste on everyone’s tongue.

Among the activities scheduled:

Biscuit Bake Off — Biscuit bakers submit their best recipes for traditional biscuits, dessert biscuits, most creative biscuits, and kids’ biscuits to a panel of expert judges. [Note: Surely a bakery blogger with a name like Bakery Boy (hint, hint) should be invited to judge this competition one of these years!] Finalists prepare their versions fresh on location for the decisive last round of tasting. Yes, you can taste samples, for a small fee.

Biscuit Songwriting Competition — Clever lyrics (mostly about biscuits) and a good beat go a long way toward pleasing this particular audience, but you might say they’ve already been buttered up for the occasion. Categories include rock, country, gospel, folk, hip hop and others.

Miss Biscuit and Mister Biscuit Pageant — To earn these crowns contestants need: Poise, defined as the ability to walk a runway while balancing a stack of biscuits on the head. A talent of some kind, any kind really, but think singing about biscuits or perhaps juggling them. A sense of fashion if you consider apron-modeling fashionable.

Biscuit Art Competition — Artwork portraying biscuits in all their multifaceted glory dominate this show. Clear some wall space at home for your must-have choices of paintings, pen-and-ink drawings, photographs, ceramic or fiber sculpture and more.

Throughout the two-day festival, opportunities to eat biscuits abound, so come hungry. If you’re like me, after a weekend of biscuit-based inspiration you’ll be vowing to whip up batches of biscuits at home more often.


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