Reader Rainey writes:
For years I’ve wondered about the Peeps of my childhood in the 50s. I distinctly remember marshmallow chicks that were molded. They actually resembled chicks standing on legs. They were ever so much more attractive than the blobby current offerings. And they actually did get stale producing a wonderful crunchy crust. But it’s affirmation of the molded chicks I’m after and no one else o the bloggosphere seems to remember this.
Great comment, Rainey. Originally Peeps were made by the Rodda Candy Company, a family-owned confectionary operation out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Though their main expertise was in jelly beans, the Rodda Company also dabbled in marshmallow, making marshmallow eggs and chicks in the springtime. These weren’t actually molded, rather they were hand-fashioned by a small crew of German ladies armed with piping bags. They made each individual chick by hand, dusted them with colored sugar and dried them. Start-to-finish the process took over 25 hours.
In 1953 the Just Born company of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, acquired the Rodda Candy Company. The owner, a Russian immigrant by the name of Sam Born, was intrigued by the little chicks and shortly developed a mechanized extrusion process that would allow him to produce them faster and in greater quantity. I don’t know how long it took to make a Peep in 1954, the year the new product was unveiled, but I do know that these days Peeps are piped, sugared, dried and boxed in about six minutes. Just Born makes something on the order of a billion every year, three quarters of which are sold at Easter.
I say “sold” because only about two thirds of them are actually eaten. Accord to the Just Born company, about a third are used as decorations, made into kitsch art, or put to some other use.
UPDATE: Reader John, who is now making peeps using the original Rodda molds, sends this photo along of his product: