Monday, April 17, 2000

People who need PEEPS


It's spring, when no question is too STUPID to ask about those beloved marshmallow chicks

BY Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        This is sick:

        Stupid Question No. 1: My husband insists the only way to eat Peeps to to bite the head off first, and that the manufacturer recommends that. True???

        This is even sicker:

        Stupid Question No. 2: I've heard there's a way to use flaming Peeps on cakes. Really???

        Peep decapitations? Peep flamers?

PEEPS IN THE PAST
Here with the proud parade of Peeps history in America:

1923: Sam Born, a Russian immigrant, opens Just Born Candy Co. in New York City. He gets rich inventing chocolate Jimmies and a machine that mechanically inserts sticks into lollipops.

1953: Just Born, now relocated in Bethlehem, Pa., acquires the Rodda Candy Co. Although mostly a jelly bean house, Rodda was also the nation's Peeps supplier.

1954-60: The traditional yellow Peep is mass marketed for the first time. Previously, Rodda's technique of hand-squeezing them from pastry tubes made mass marketing impossible.

Mid-'50s: The color barrier falls when Just Born introduces first pink, then white peeps. Exact dates are lost in Peep archives.

Late-'50s: The species barrier falls when Just Born introduces the Peeps Bunny. That date is likewise lost.

1991: The year of the mutilation — Peeps went wing-free for the first time.

1995: After a 30-year dry spell, something new: Lavender Peeps hit the market.

1998: Blue Peeps make their debut in honor of Just Born's 75th anniversary. Today, yellow Peeps are the most popular, followed by lavender, pink and white. 1999: Just Born introduces blue bunnies and vanilla creme-flavored Peeps Eggs.

1999: Peeps Hearts debut for Valentine's Day; Peeps Ghosts pop up at Halloween.

2000: Just Born begins laying strawberry-creme Peeps Eggs.

        Guess we should have seen it coming, because it happens all the time at holidays — The Stupid Desk gets a mountain of, uh, odd questions about seasonal accoutrement.

        This time it's Easter, with an emphasis on Peeps, the marshmallow tasties that turn up in Easter baskets and get plastic grass stuck to their bellies. Everyone has a question ...

        I don't eat Peeps, but somebody must. I see them everywhere.

        You bet your life you do. According to Rose Craig at Just Born, the company that manufactures them, Peeps pop up in 69 percent of all Easter baskets.

        And that's not all, says Susan Smith at the National Confectioners Association: Peeps (chicks and bunnies) are the No. 1 selling non-chocolate Easter candy, topping jelly beans for the past six years.

        About 600 million will come to roost this year, and it won't be all kids: 51 million Americans over 18 admit they're Peeps freaks.

        Question: How fat am I going to get on Peeps?

        Answer: Unless you eat the whole 600 million, you're fine. A single Peep contains 32 calories and no fat, making a serving of five only 160 calories.

        Even lifetime consumption figures aren't bad: The average male eats 919 Peeps (29,408 calories) in his lifetime; the average female knocks back 623 (19,936 calories).

        Q: Where do Peeps come from? I'm assuming they don't occur in nature, so I guess there's a factory out there somewhere.

        A: Right you are. Peeps are hatched in Bethlehem, Pa., by Just Born, a firm named after founder Sam Born, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1910 and built a candy empire.

        Just Born started making Peeps in 1953 when it acquired a rival candy company. Back in the Peeps stone age, it took 27 hours to make one: Boil up the batter, squeeze it from pastry tube to mold, let it set and, finally, hand-paint the eyes.

        Today, thanks to technology's march through the hen house, it takes six minutes, allowing Just Born to pop out 2 million a day. Those troublesome eyes are also mechanized, appearing on Peep faces at the rate of 3,500 a minute.

        It takes a Just Born factory staff of more than 400 to pull off the daily birth rate.

        Q: What's the correct way to eat a Peep? My husband insists it's bite the head off, then the butt, then stuff the middle in your mouth.

        A: There's not really a correct way, but there is a preferred way.

        According 1998 surveys by MSI International and International Communications Research (ICR), 60 percent of consumers eat Peeps head first. And if that's not grizzly enough, 40 percent stretch the neck out before the fatal chomp. No statistics on butt and belly biting, but 10 percent admit, actually admit, they stuff more than one whole Peep in their mouth at once.

        Q: Am I the only person who eats Peeps fresh? Everyone I know eats them stale. What gives?

        A: Go ahead, eat them fresh and don't feel guilty.

        According to the MSI and ICR surveys, only 19 percent of Peeps consumers eat them stale. But that doesn't mean 81 percent eat them fresh. Eleven percent eat them frozen, and 10 percent eat them floating in hot chocolate.

        Q: Is there be such a thing as Easter without Peeps?

        Not in our lifetime, says Kathy Merlock Jackson, professor of communications at Virginia Wesleyan College and vice president of the American Culture Association.

        “They are recognizable American icons that always have been and always will be part of Easter. An icon is an artifact that has meaning, so it's logical to ask, "What is the meaning?'

        “For Peeps, it's more than meets the eye. It's the connection to Easter and, equally important, the connection to spring. They're soft, fuzzy, spring colors, so when you see them you know winter's over.

        “Pop culture is about little things that over time take on meaning. Peeps are part of the candy triumvirate: Chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and Peeps.”

        Professor Merlock Jackson, for the record, does not eat Peeps: “I eat chocolate bunnies, ears first.”

        Q: Tell me this isn't true. Tell me there isn't a whole cult of people who sit around microwaving Peeps.

        A: Sorry, but they do. All the time. There are two benefits and a drawback:

        • Benefit one: Instant staleness, if you do it correctly.

        • Benefit two: Peeps expansion, up to five times their original size.

        • Drawback: Wait too long and you clean your microwave with a chisel.

        Q: Microwave directions, please.

        A: Wellsir, you need to know that times vary because microwaves vary and because of a Peeps' age. Basically, the older the Peep, the more water that has evaporated, causing more scorching and quicker explosions. For a fairly fresh Peep:

        • At 30 seconds, they begin to inflate just a tad.

        • At 60 seconds, the chest inflates, points proudly upward; at this point, the Peep is double in size.

        • At 2 to 21/2 minutes, they're three-four times their size and ready to eat. NOW.

        • At three minutes, they begin melting into Peep-goo.

        • At four minutes, Peep puddles begin to overflow, making a nasty mess in the microwave.

        Q: I travel abroad a lot and have never seen Peeps. Why?

        Because the manufacturer couldn't keep up with the demand here and abroad. But starting this year, Peeps are exported to England, Australia, New Zealand and China.

        On a disturbing note, one of the Peep Web sites did a survey on when Brits should eat their Peeps: Tea time was the winner with 22 percent of the votes. That ought to give the Queen Mum's dentures a gummy workout.

        Q: Flaming Peeps? Is somebody pulling my beak?

        A: Would that they were, but nooooo. There are, believe it or not, 20 Web sites devoted to Peeps, and many feature crafty projects.

        Such as: Peeps-pots, wherein you paint a clay pot pastel colors, glue Peeps around the rim and plant bulbs inside; Peep bonnets, wherein you decorate a straw hat with Peeps and dried flowers; Peeps-cicles, wherein you stick a popsicle stick into a Peeps Egg, dip it in melted chocolate and freeze overnight.

        About these flaming Peeps: Take a Peep and a large-ish jelly beans. Slice off the fat ends of the jelly beans so they will stand; carve the other ends into a mini-point. Set the Peep atop the jelly bean-legs, insert a birthday candle in the Peep-back and mount on a cake. Light. Blow. Quickly, lest you have Peep puddles all over the place.

        Q: Does the Stupid Desk ever do anything really stupid? Like eat Peeps?

        A: Normally the Stupid Desk doesn't like all you deranged people knowning such personal data, but for Peeps, we'll make an exception:

        The Stupid Desk has a Peeps incubator — a large box a caterer once brought loaves of bread in — stocked with several boxes (yellow, for Heaven's sake), all getting stale. There were more boxes last week, but these breakfast emergencies popped up ...

       



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