Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 5, 2013

"Peeps" for the "Peep"le

Every Easter, when sugar-coated marshmallow chick- and bunny-shaped Peeps fill store shelves, several newspapers - including the "St. Paul Pioneer Press," "The Washington Post," "The Chicago Tribune" and "The Seattle Times" - sponsor contests for dioramas and artwork made from Peeps.

This was brought to my attention last week when local television station WIBW showed a diorama of a "Peepal" conclave. The recent hubbub surrounding the selection of Pope Francis made it a popular theme for the Peeps contest this year. And with Pope and Peep having similar sounds, well, it was just too good to be true for people who like plays on words. The conclave I saw had 117 chicks dressed as Roman Catholic cardinals, complete with red felt capes, waiting to elect the new "Peep" while lined up in a miniature version of the Sistine Chapel.

Although I've never been a big fan of the overly-sugary marshmallow treats, I wanted to know more about them. I learned that two events converged to create the popular little chicks. One was the arrival in the U.S. of Russian Sam Born. In 1923, Born opened a small candy-making and retail store in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he marketed his fresh candy with a sign that stated "Just Born."

The second event was the acquisition by Born in 1953 of the Rodda Candy Company of Lancaster, Penn. Although Rodda was best known for its jelly beans, it also made a small line of marshmallow products that included a popular Easter Peep made by hand-squeezing marshmallow through a pastry tube. Born's son, Bob, who had joined his father in the candy business, helped mechanize the marshmallow-forming process and the Born Peep was introduced that year. The Bethlehem, Penn. company went on to became the world's largest manufacturer of novelty marshmallow treats. The 60-year-old confection set a new record this year with the manufacture of one billion Peeps.

Until 1995, Peeps were only produced in pink, white and yellow. That year, lavender-colored Peeps were introduced, and in 1998, blue Peeps were brought out for Easter. Other innovations have included vanilla- and strawberry-flavored Peeps and chocolate Peeps.

While the little chicks were traditionally used primarily to fill Easter baskets, recent ad campaigns have attempted to broaden their appeal by introducing the "Peeps - Always in Season" theme. The candies now include Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day figures.

Husband Art said he always liked fruit-filled chocolate Cadbury eggs in his Easter basket. I preferred hollow chocolate bunnies. Younger daughter Katie likes peanut butter-chocolate "Reester" bunnies and daughter-in-law Lacey favors salty potato chips over the sweets.

But oldest daughter Mariya is a Peeps fan. When I texted her asking why she liked them, I could almost imagine her grinning as she pretended to return to her childhood days as she tapped the reply, "I love them because they are marshmallows covered in sugar ... and they're squishy. Mmm...squishy sugar puffs."

The packet of three yellow chicks in her Easter basket this year were dipped in "nests" of chocolate.

"Bonus sugar!" Mariya said. "Those Peeps are a one-way ticket to diabetes, for sure."

Niece Larisa, who spent Easter weekend with us, summed up what most Peeps fans say.

"Marshmallows covered in sugar, ... what could be better than that?"

Left: the "Peepal" conclave ; lower right: Peep cardinals making pizza during the "Peepal" conclave; top right: Mariya, left, and Katie share a laugh while holding their respective Easter candy favorite Peeps and Reester bunnies. The left and lower-right pictures were reposted from www.themonkeycage.org website which reported them to be from the Washington Post contest.

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