Food & Drink

These Oatmeal Creme Pies Have the Power to Unlock Your Fondest Memories

little debbie
Danna Windsor/Thrillist

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, my parents put a limit on the number days a week I could have dessert – likely in an attempt to keep from having to buy my clothes from the husky section. As such, I viewed any sweet item as a true treat, and Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies were one of my favorites. Those markedly soft and chewy oatmeal cookies sandwiching a layer of sugary creme filling hold a sacred place not just in my own heart and stomach, but those of people of all walks of life. I savored every bite each time I was allowed to indulge – often picking the crumbs from my shirt so not to waste a single morsel. But over the years, we’ve grown distant, like childhood friends. Now I feel it’s time for a reunion.

The Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie is the OG – and still reigning champion – of the snack cake world. They’ve gone from playing a starring role in many people's childhood memories to landing a solid foothold in pop culture, from an appearance in the classic movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids, to some very NSFW entries in Urban Dictionary that I won't even bother linking to. They’ve been name-checked in songs of all genres by artists like Jay-Z, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Waka Flocka Flame (and not to mention the little-known rapper who goes by Lil Debbie).

Currently costing only 50 cents each at my local corner store (the original price of a whole box), Oatmeal Creme Pies are accessible to pretty much everyone as a simple way to treat yo' self on the regular.

Outside of doing "research" to write this story, I honestly can't remember the last time I'd indulged in an Oatmeal Creme Pie. The first few reunion bites conjured a sense of nostalgia for my carefree youth, when my main concern was lunchtime, as opposed to nowadays, when it’s paying today's too-damn-high New York City rent. I've since swapped the cheap, plastic-wrapped cookie of my past for baked goods from posh bakeries in the present. As writer, cheese specialist, and community activist Tia Keenan recently quipped, they're a struggle food, and my circumstances have changed since childhood.

As for the culinary merit of the product, the cookies are known for their soft and chewy nature – my personal ideal for what the texture of a cookie should be. The first thing to hit my palate is sweetness, which makes sense as corn syrup is listed as the first ingredient. But beyond just saccharine, there is some depth thanks to the molasses. They certainly taste of oats, though it's hard to see any actual whole oats in the cookies as one might expect. The surprise components I wouldn't have been able to call out without reading the label are raisin paste, chocolate, and cocoa. It's my guess that these ingredients are what give Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pies that certain je ne sais quoi in terms of their taste. As for the "creme" filling, it tastes like there isn't any dairy actually involved, despite the whey and nonfat dry milk listed among the ingredients.

To clarify, these are not pies at all, but sandwich cookies. And sitting down to write this story is when I first realized that it's "creme" and not "cream," evoking a fancy French pastry baked by garçons and mademoiselles in some far off place. In actuality, these beloved treats hail from the small town of Collegedale, Tennessee. Officially launched as one of the first products under the Little Debbie brand in 1960, Oatmeal Creme Pies have been one of the company's top-selling products since their debut. When combined with the other Little Debbie OGs – Nutty Buddy and Swiss Rolls – over 200 million cartons of these three products are sold each year.

It's no wonder they are such a hit. Ask anyone about the snack cake and you're likely to see a smile spread across their face as blissful memories play in their heads, or so I imagine when I asked about them on Twitter.

For some, it was used as currency in exchange for doing chores for a less than pleasant neighbor: "OCPs were the currency of my childhood,” food marketing executive Chris McMahon shared. “My next-door neighbor wasn't very nice, but she did maintain a seemingly endless supply of these things. And they worked. Sweep the roof: two OCPs, Sweep the driveway: one OCP. Edge the driveway and front curb: two OCPs."

For others, it was what led them to stand up for themselves for the first time: "An older guy smacked one out of my hand as a joke when I was coming home from school as I was happily eating it leaving the corner store. I challenged him to a fight and he bought me another one, lol," Brooklyn-based Chef Omar Tate said.

A few recalled it as the perfect childhood breakfast: "I used to have 8 am Saturday morning swim practices and would have two of these for breakfast immediately beforehand, so every time I see them, I smell chlorine (in a nice way)," for wine magazine editor Layla Schlack.

And for many, Oatmeal Creme Pies held top value on the lunchroom trading floor: "Omg I remember trading for these fuckers in the lunchroom. Well, TRYING to, but I rarely had enough trade value in my lunch bag to win the day," Dr. Allison Carr recalled.

You, too, are likely a member of the Oatmeal Creme Pie fan club. Though I'm shocked to say that there are still those unfortunate souls who have yet to experience this masterpiece.

As we come to the end, I have a confession to make: I couldn't finish the whole thing when I last tasted an oatmeal pie because it’s so intensely sweet. No wonder the recommended serving size is one-third of a snack cake. All the more reason why the next time I revisit this old favorite, I’ll remember to share the joy with someone else so I can spread the gospel of the Oatmeal Creme Pie with the world – and introduce them to an old friend.

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Aaron Hutcherson is a writer, editor, recipe developer, and blogger behind The Hungry Hutch. He's a fan of soul food, whiskey, and intersectionality. Follow his cooking and eating adventures on Instagram and Twitter.