When I was a child, Peeps were Daylight Saving for my soul. As the days grew warmer, the technicolor hues of the marshmallow candy began sprouting on drugstore shelves, the confectionery equivalent of daffodils and tulips.
On Easter morning, spotting the sparkling pastel fluffs in my carefully hidden wicker basket was like a ray of pure sunshine. In their ability to shake you out of months of hibernation and put a smile on your wan, frozen face, Peeps heralded the coming of spring, and the feeling that you, too, might start to feel reborn.
Some people do eat Peeps, it’s true. Hardcore Peeps-eaters will tell you they’re best if you notch a slit in each cellophane window, giving them at least a week to dry out. (There is no other food I know of that people willingly allow to become stale in a quest to make them “better.”)
But I never could eat a Peep. To me, Peeps are meant to stay nestled in that tangle of plastic green grass, staring quizzically at me with their dotted-sugar eyes for all eternity. Or at least until I throw them away.
It was for this reason that I started holding an annual party in celebration of Peeps a decade ago. At first, the ritual was only of limited interest to those not similarly obsessed with the cult-favorite candy. But over the years, Peeps has emerged into a mainstream pop culture phenomenon.
Before they were mainstream, Peeps fandom emerged organically. Back in the 90s, Peep Research was one of the first sites I ever visited on the internet. The site was dedicated to subjecting the seemingly indestructible sugar-coated creatures to all manners of scientific inquiry. Some of the earliest videos posted on YouTube featured “Peeps jousting.” Peeps recipes—including the sacrilegious practice of making your own from scratch—began blanketing the internet; Peepshi became a Pinterest sensation. There were Peeps-scented Yankee Candles, and flavored Peeps milk.
Then, the cult sensation, fueled by the viral power of the internet, exploded, and the memes began to come so fast and so furiously, that in my effort to collect them all, I launched what would become the most influential Peeps Tumblr on the internet.
It was beautiful! Until something awful happened. Peeps started hopping onto shelves for every holiday. This is when things started to get out of hand.
Peeps have been made in Pennsylvania since the 1920s. In the beginning, they were hand-piped and carefully sprinkled with sugar. The operation was acquired by Just Born in 1954, and thereafter mass-produced. First were the baby Chicks Peeps. Then came Bunnies. For 70 years the colors never deviated from the quintessential springtime palette: yellow, lilac, magenta.
By the time my Peeps obsession kicked in, the company had started to quietly add other shades: green, blue, and orange. I thought this modest expansion would be the end of it, but it turned out just to be the beginning. Just Born was firing up its marshmallow color cannons in preparation for a full-scale War on Easter.
All of a sudden pumpkins and cats were available around Halloween. Around Christmas, you can buy trees and reindeer. The snowmen and gingerbread men invade the winter months. In true Hallmark-style, you can give your Valentine heart-shaped Peeps in February. There are even Peeps for holidays you’d never want Peeps for, like “4th of July Patriotic Vanilla Creme Peeps.” What’s next? Peeps Mommies for Mother’s Day?
But the Peeps tombstones are where I truly lost it. Who finds festivity in a marshmallow gravesite? My jovial association of Peeps with spring was ruined forever. Now Peeps were the equivalent of dying.
I thought that was bad, but then came the true death knell.
Should you pay a visit your local Peeps purveyor today, you will find Cotton Candy Peeps, Fruit Punch Peeps, Bubble Gum Peeps, Sweet Lemonade Peeps, Sour Watermelon Peeps, Party Cake Peeps, and Blue Raspberry Peeps, as well as three different “Mystery Flavors.”
That’s not all. You will find Orange Crème Bunnies and Strawberry Crème Chicks—not to be confused with Strawberry Delight Chicks, which are dipped in crème-flavored fudge, which in turn should not to be confused with Blueberry Delight, Orange Delight, Lemon Delight, Lime Delight, Vanilla Delight, or Raspberry Delight (which, by the way, is not the same as Blue Raspberry).
Depending on the season, you might find Peeps which have been Chocolate Covered, Chocolate Dipped, Chocolate Moussed (and Chocolate Dipped Moussed). Or Pumpkin Spiced, Caramel Appled, and Candy Corned.
There are White Chocolate Dipped Sugar Plum Chicks. There are Cream—not Crème—Fudge Dipped Red Velvet Chicks. There are Chocolate Dipped Candy Cane Chicks. There are Peeps Minions (they are banana flavored).
That wasn’t enough. Peeps are also now available “year-round” as Peeps Minis, smaller, individually wrapped, flavored Chicks. Because “Every Day Is a Holiday.”
The addition of flavors is particularly odd because, according to Just Born, one out of every three Peeps—a full third of their product line—are purchased by people like me. People with explicit intentions of not consuming them.
Sadly, however, now even the Peep craft world has been tainted. When the Washington Post launched its influential Peeps diorama contest in 2006, the onslaught of flavors and holidays had not yet begun in earnest. Yet, if you looked closely at the winner of this year’s contest, the infiltration was obvious. As confirmed by the designers, the “Anger Peep” that’s the star of the Inside Out-inside-Trump’s-head homage is not a Chick or a Bunny, it is a Red Marshmallow Heart.
One of the first Peeps dioramas you probably ever saw—potentially the first-ever Peeps diorama—was this depiction of a strip club. The dancers wear tiny pasties and g-strings. One Bunny clings expertly to the pole using the sticky marshmallow of its inner thighs. (This is one of the better qualities of using the candy for crafting—Peeps can be affixed to almost anything.) Smoking Chicks are making it rain with tiny dollar bills. (Also, I can’t tell for certain but I’m pretty sure that furniture is made from Starbursts). The execution is perfect, but the theme itself is simply poetic. It is a Peep Show, you guys. A Peep Show.
This is the only Peeps diorama that matters. I have tried in vain to find this diorama’s creator but I fear that because the work possibly predates the internet, the author is lost to Google. If you’re out there, person behind this masterpiece—MASTERPEEPS?!?!—please come forward. We need you to return to us. We need you now more than ever to remind us about the true meaning of Peeps.
Hopefully my daughter will never know the horrors of Peeps that are arterial red or impregnated with watermelon or drizzled in crème. I will do my best to keep her experience limited to the original six hues and their original marshmallow flavor.
Unfortunately, it might be too late. I am afraid that the bleak future of Peeps has already arrived. Our Easter baskets are besmirched with the tang of blue raspberry and smack of bubble gum, our dioramas swarming with GingerPeeps and ghosts of Halloweens past. Every day another Peep arrives. Pretty soon Peeps will be just another everyday candy, and there will be nothing special about Peeps at all.