Peeps Genesis – Makings of a Marshmallow Invasion
If any of you were following me around Halloween, you learned that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. It’s really hard for me to refuse candy, especially when it comes to Candy Corn (if you weren’t following me then, click here and 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 seems to be 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 isn’t a sight for sore eyes, 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 also got kicks out of expanding them to dangerous sizes in the microwave (oddly, they never blew up. More on that later). I think that’s why I don’t like them now. I’m very suspicious of things that I can’t control.
And if there’s one thing we’ve lost control over, it’s Peeps. 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.
So, just in time for spring, 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-Born candy maker named Sam Born. He didn’t invent them, but he sure had a hand in their spread across the globe.
Born immigrated to the United States in 1910, and he got straight to work in the candy business. He came from a family line of chocolatiers, and according to many sources, he was very good at it. By 1916, he was known as an innovator in candy-making. His claim to fame was a machine that inserted sticks into lollipops, so the sticky mess of doing it by hand was eliminated. Candy makers across the country were so thankful that Sam Born was given the key to San Francisco. He also found ways to simplify the process of sprinkle-making and solidifying the chocolate coating on Eskimo pies.
By 1923, Born had a store in Brooklyn called “Just Born,” which wasn’t just a clever use of his name. It was also a nod to the fact that all of his sweets were made fresh that morning. Although the name reeks of a candies that are shaped like animals, Peeps were not a part of Born’s inventory back then. Instead, his specialty was 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. It is a delicious irony that said factory was 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 was able to acquire yet another candy factory called Rodda Candy Company.
What did Rodda make, you may ask? Well, a lot of things. Their main inventory was religious-shaped candies during the holidays. They also had some primo jelly bean technology for the time, which is what drew Born’s attention in the first place. Yet, when he went on a tour of his new acquisition, Born and his cohorts found something interesting in a back room. Dozens of women were hard at work making delightful little marshmallow candy-chicks.
The records aren’t clear when the first Peep came out of Rodda Candy Company. Some speculate it was sometime in the 1920s, but there is no evidence of them in the company’s vintage catalogue from 1925. Some Rodda family members say that the first marshmallow chicks were made on special order for a very loyal customer, and it was sometime in the 1940s.
Whatever the origin, the marshmallow chicks (not yet called Peeps –it’s unclear when that title officially stuck) were a regular part of the Rodda routine by the time Sam Born entered the picture. It was an exhausting routine too, and it took up to eighty people. The chicks were hand-piped through a pastry bag, one at a time, with sticky marshmallow. The signature of the chicks was their swirling little marshmallow wings that swept up behind their backs, and shaping those by hand was a chore. Afterward, makers had to wait for almost thirty hours while the marshmallow candies cooled. Then, color was added and eyes were painted on. Making them was such an ordeal that the chicks were only released for a limited time during Easter.
From the start, Sam Born recognized that he had stumbled on something interesting. He quickly lost his focus on jelly beans and instead put 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 make the tedious job of candy-making a little easier. So, it was only a matter of time before one was invented for the Peeps. With his own hands, Bob invented and built “the Depositor,” a machine that could crank out six rows of five Peeps at once. Once it was perfected, “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 was now able to 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.
Additional changes were made in the 1960s to speed up production even more. The most notable was that the poor little Peeps lost their wings. Their vintage swirl wings were traded in for NO wings at all. 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 added, such as pink and white. Just Born decided they also needed some partners in crime, so bunnies were tossed 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, Peeps were so iconic that more new colors, namely blue and lavender, were introduced. Just Born also tossed in 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 was on the rise. They, and those of us in “camp hate,” didn’t see a delightful little candy. They saw an enemy that swept 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 it. 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, their conclusions were released, and they were horrifying. The Peeps were indestructible. This marshmallow invasion would have no end, because no matter what these scientists tried, the Peeps just would not die. 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 now? What can we do with all these Peeps? 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 their 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 accessory lines such as bracelets, umbrellas, and the new favorite, plush toys. Some Peep-fanatics have even designed clothes made entirely of Peeps.
Well, 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 it’s a texture and flavor that reminds me of chalk. So instead of eating, I’ve hunkered down and let the Peep fanatics have their fun. I’ve also made a great sport in taking stock of the bizarre flavors I see 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