The Slightly Gross Way The Mississippi Mud Pie Got Its Name

The Mississippi mud pie is a chocolate lover's nirvana. The dessert layers syrup, custard, crumbles, and cake on top of each other to create an exploration of all the different textures and flavors that chocolate can offer. The sweet lusciousness of the dish contrasts sharply with its nomenclature, a reference to the dirty, muddy banks of the Mississippi River. Of course, the Mississippi mud pie is anything but nasty, although it might leave a mess behind if you're not careful handling all of that delicious goo.

The specific origins of the Mississippi mud pie are unclear. It might be based on the mud cake, a crustless and distinct creation of its own that rose to popularity during World War II when a lack of available ingredients necessitated some improvising. The pie variation, which often includes a cookie- or graham cracker-based crust, looks like it can be dated at least back to the 1970s — though there's evidence to suggest the recipe has been around longer and wasn't even invented in the American South.

Why Mississippi mud pie?

Part of the confusion over the origins of the Mississippi mud pie may be because there's really no exact proper way to make and construct the dessert. Lots of chocolate and some type of crust are usually agreed upon as musts, but recipe variations are abundant. The late Rowdy Nosser, former owner of the now-defunct Rowdy's Family Restaurant in Vicksburg, Mississippi, claims that his grandmother passed the recipe down from the early century — before the mud cakes of World War II even existed. 

There's also a legend that a waitress named Jenney Meyer, who relocated to Vicksburg from the flooded nearby Greenville, remarked that the chocolate pies she was serving bore a resemblance to the muddy banks of the river that engulfed her hometown. In a bit of history that totally calls the geography into question, a Japanese-American woman named Joanna Chiyo Nakamura Droeger — who operated the Brighton Express restaurant in San Francisco at the turn of the 1950s — reportedly invented a "mud pie" dessert for her Daily Special. Droeger's method was based around coffee ice cream topped with fudge and held together with an Oreo crust, but it seemed to have neglected to include the "Mississippi" moniker.

The murky origins of this decadent dessert

In contrast, famed food writer Craig Claiborne stated that even though he grew up in the Mississippi Delta region, he had never heard of the dessert until he became started working for The New York Times. "It is conceivable that they existed, but no amount of research has revealed to me whether they did or if these are recent creations that came about during my adulthood," he elaborated in "Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking," further adding to the mystery. Perplexed, Claiborne reached out to his readers to inquire further and received "scores of recipes from all over the nation," meaning that a clear answer never surfaced.

Claiborne did, however, summarize the letters he received into one concise recipe that utilizes cocoa and pecan nuts, although since it's lacking a definitive crust it's more of a cake than a pie. For authenticity's sake, he also included a recipe from Mississippi native Dorothy Ann Webb that uses a cornstarch and water mixture glaze as a crusted coating. Although the genesis of the Mississippi mud pie may never fully come to light, the dessert most certainly gets its name from the way the chocolate layers look like the thick sediment of America's most iconic waterway.