Peeps Genesis – Makings of a Marshmallow Invasion
If any of you followed me around Halloween, you probably know that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. It’s really hard to refuse candy, especially when it comes to Candy Corn (click here to read all about it).
Well, I decided to make a two-parter out of that post, because it’s not just Candy Corn that I love. It’s holiday candies in general. Something about seeing it packed on the store shelves makes me giddy. Maybe it’s all those fun shapes and pretty colors, because I have somewhat of a short attention span at the supermarket. Who doesn’t, right?
Easter is an exceptionally festive time at the grocery store. After a hard winter (and I think we all had one this year), all those pastel pink, yellow, and green wrappers are a sight for sore eyes. So are all the chocolate bunnies, rainbow jelly beans, and brightly-speckled Robin’s Eggs.
You know what makes eyes even sorer though? Peeps. Those mangy Marshmallow creatures that swallow up every candy aisle at Easter. Even through my deep love of all things holiday, Peeps have managed a place on my hate list.
It wasn’t so when I was a kid. My youngest brother and I used to tear through them by the box. We got major kicks out of expanding them to dangerous sizes in the microwave (oddly, they never blew up. More on that later). That might be why I don’t like them now. Things I can’t control make me suspicious.
And Peeps are one thing I think we’ve all lost control over. They’ve become nothing short of a full-scale invasion at Easter time. Peeps by the thousands parachute into every single grocery store. They bombard every Easter party, and they pile up in Easter baskets. They also come in a plethora of bizarre flavors that leave me scratching my head at the mere thought of consuming them (see a list of these strange encounters below).
Just like Candy Corn, Peeps seem to be a love it or hate it kind of thing. Since I explored team love over Halloween, I thought Easter could explore team… well, suspicious, at the very least. I decided to learn where the hell all these Peeps came from. Maybe if we identify the source, we can eradicate the problem. Here is the run down on how we got stuck with the annual army of marshmallow creatures.
Peeps cracked out of their egg shells thanks to a Russian candy maker named Sam Born. He didn’t invent them, but it’s his fault they spread across the globe.
Born immigrated to the United States in 1910, and he dove head first into the candy business. He came from a family line of chocolatiers, and according to many sources, he had a major talent for all things sweet. By 1916, he had become an innovator in candy-making. His claim to fame was a machine that inserted sticks into lollipops, eliminating the sticky mess of doing it by hand. He also found ways to simplify sprinkle-making and solidify the chocolate coating on Eskimo pies.
By 1923, Born had his own candy store in Brooklyn called “Just Born.” It wasn’t just a clever twist of his name, but also a nod to the fact that he turned out fresh sweets every morning. Although the name reeks of candies shaped like animals, Born’s inventory didn’t include Peeps back then. He found a bigger specialty in ingratiating French delicacies into the American pallet.
However, the crash of 1929 brought some hard times, even to candy-maker extraordinaire, Mr. Born. By then, he had expanded his empire through the acquisition of other companies. To save on funds, he relocated his many operations to an empty print factory in Pennsylvania. In a delicious irony, said factory was located in Bethlehem, which heralds to another “just born” type of holiday. All puns aside though, Born did very well in Pennsylvania. In fact, he did so well that in 1953, he acquired yet another candy factory called Rodda Candy Company.
What did Rodda make, you may ask? Well, a lot of things. Their biggest draw was religious-shaped candies during the holidays. They also had some primo jelly bean technology, which drew Born’s interest and bank account in the first place. Yet, when he toured his new sweet shop acquisition, Born and his cohorts found something interesting in a back room. Dozens of women hard at work making delightful little marshmallow candy-chicks.
The records don’t clearly show when the first Peep hatched at Rodda Candy Company. Some speculate it was sometime in the 1920s, but the company’s vintage catalogue from 1925 has no evidence of them. Some Rodda family members say the first marshmallow chicks were made on special order for a very loyal customer, sometime in the 1940s.
Whatever the origin, the marshmallow chicks (not yet called Peeps –it’s unclear when that title officially stuck) played a regular part in the Rodda routine when Sam Born entered the picture. It was an exhausting routine too, taking up to eighty people. Workers hand-piped the chicks through a pastry bag, one at a time, with sticky marshmallow. Also by hand, they carefully added swirling little marshmallow wings sweeping up behind their backs, the signature Rodda Chick stamp. Afterward, makers waited for almost thirty hours while the marshmallow candies cooled. Then, they added color and painted on eyes. Those Marshmallow Chicks were such an ordeal that Rodda only released them for a limited time during Easter.
As soon as he laid eyes on those chicks, Sam Born realized he had stumbled on something interesting. He quickly lost focus on jelly beans and instead piped his efforts into the marshmallow treats. He wanted to make them year-round, but what to do about that painstaking production process?
Well, when anything gets to be too monotonous, out come the machines. By 1954, Sam Born’s brother, Bob, had taken a hand in Just Born candy company. Like his brother, he had a fondness for machines that could simplify the tedious job of candy-making. And he soon invented a fantastic one for the Peeps. With his own hands, Bob invented and built “the Depositor,” a machine that cranked out six rows of five Peeps at once. Once he perfected it, “the Depositor” cut down Peep production time just a tad. Making a tray of them went from a thirty-hour process to a simple six minutes. Just Born could now meet the marshmallow needs of the country, and they could do it all year round. Soon, Just Born became the largest marshmallow confectioner in the world.
They brought additional Peep changes in the 1960s to speed up production even more, including clipping their cute, signature little wings. Because Peeps don’t need to fly. They just need to get through those machines as fast as possible and right into some unwitting person’s Easter basket. They also got some new colors makeovers, such as pink and white. Just Born decided to give the birds some partners in crime too, so they tossed some bunnies into the marshmallow candy jungle.
Slowly but surely, marshmallow Peeps began their takeover of Earth… I mean, Easter (no, I mean Earth). More and more appeared on the shelves. Millions at a time came off the factory lines. Other holidays got their own shapes too, like pumpkins for Halloween and hearts for Valentine’s Day. By the 1990s, more new colors, like blue and lavender, got introduced. Just Born also rolled out some new flavors – vanilla and chocolate. Actual Peep cults started to pop up. People began making Easter garlands and dessert artworks out of the signature spring candies.
It was all good and fine for the Peep lovers, but in quiet corners of the scientific world, concern began to mount. They, and those of us in “camp hate,” didn’t see a delightful little candy. They saw an enemy sweeping the globe with no end in sight. Peeps had become an invasive force, and if something wasn’t done, we would all drown in their marshmallow madness. In 1999, a pair of scientists at Emory University banded together to do something about that. They wanted to destroy the Peeps.
Let me tell you, they tried everything. They dipped colorful marshmallow chicks and bunnies into boiling water. They put them in microwaves and blew them up to incredible sizes, but damn it, they never burst. They coated them with liquid nitrogen, and they tossed them in vats of boiling acid. After weeks of torture, er… experiments, they released their horrifying conclusion. The Peeps were indestructible. They could not die. The marshmallow invasion would have no end. You might think I’m making this up, and in that case, I invite you to click here for the very Peepy truth.
So, where does that leave us? Well, most people have decided that if they can’t beat them, join them. 2004 saw the first contest for Peep dioramas. Artists the world over used Peeps as arty cannon fodder, and it’s been a sensation ever since. In 2009, retail stores that only sold Peeps entered the market. Just Born put fuel to the fire and released peep-inspired lip balm and other accessories such as bracelets, umbrellas, and the new favorite, plush toys. Some Peep-fanatics have even designed clothes made entirely of Peeps.
I suppose that’s one way to handle it. As for me, I haven’t been able to get on board. Peeps all taste the same to me, and they feel like sandpaper in your mouth. So instead of eating, I’ve hunkered down and let the Peep fanatics have their fun. I’ve also made great sport in hunting for bizarre flavors every year. They just keep getting weirder, so I don’t think I’ll get bored anytime soon.
For those of you who do like the little marshmallow creatures that could, I wish you a very peep-filled and pleasant Easter and Spring! To the rest of us, well, there’s always chocolate bunnies. And jelly beans! Don’t forget the jelly beans.
USA Today – “6 Things You Didn’t Know About Marshmallow Peeps”
Good Housekeeping – “The Peeps Chick is Turning 60!”
Food & Wine – “the History of Peeps”
Preposterous Peep flavors! I’ve only tried a few, but maybe you are braver than me. Let us know what Peep adventures you’ve had in the comments below.
Orange/Lemon Sherbert Peeps
Blue Raspberry Delight Peeps
Sour Watermelon Peeps
Sour Cherry Peeps
Pancakes and Syrup Peeps
Rootbeer Float Peeps
Cotton Candy Peeps
Birthday/Party Cake Peeps
Candy Cane Peeps (at Christmas Time)
Vanilla Crème Peeps
Mystery Peeps (Sounds dangerous)
Fruit Punch Peeps