View Full Version : A Glimpse into the History of Easter Candy

April 17th, 2006, 12:15 AM
Join us as we delve into the delectable not-so-distant past of Easter candy and learn, among other things, just how Marshmallow Peeps came to rule the world.

The days are longer, the sun is brighter, the colors are rich, and the candies are pastel.

It’s springtime for many parts of the world once again, and in celebration of its triumphant return we enter into the saccharin sanctity of a world filled with Marshmallow Peeps, Jelly Beans, and other well packaged bits of sweetness sure to bring about a sugar-induced coma.

Easter has risen high in the candy hierarchy over the years. It is now the second top-selling candy holiday, just barely behind the glorious ode to sugar that is Halloween. Of the estimated 8 billion pounds of candy consumed in the United States each year, Easter makes up a very large portion of the pie.

Easter BunnyAmericans spend an average $1.9 billion on Easter candy every year, just behind Halloween which consists of $2 billion worth of candy spending. Christmas and Valentine’s Day bring up the rear with $1.4 billion and $1 billion respectively. So how has it come to be that so much money is spent on sugary colored marshmallows?

Easter has always had a relatively “sweet” appeal for many cultures for hundreds of years. As most people know, Easter is a religious holiday for many; and a somewhat secular holiday for others. Regardless of people’s beliefs and reasons for celebrating Easter, it has always held the strong appeal of being a time where things are reborn, fresh, and new. It is, for the most part, a happy time; when one can celebrate all that is good in the world. And what is “gooder” than sweet treats, right?

And So It Begins...With Hot Cross Buns

The exchange and consumptions of treats for Easter goes back hundreds of years, mainly believed to have begun with the tradition of Hot Cross Buns. Hot Cross Buns became the traditional breakfast of Good Friday and became a Christian tradition as well. But Hot Cross Buns were not always associated with Christianity. Their origins lie in pagan traditions of ancient cultures, with the cross representing the four quarters of the moon. During early missionary efforts, the Christian church adopted the buns and re-interpreted the icing cross. In 1361, a monk named Father Thomas Rockcliffe began a tradition of giving Hot Cross Buns to the poor of St Albans on Good Friday.

In years that followed, many customs, traditions, superstitions, and claims of healing and protection from evil were associated with the buns. In the 16th century, Roman Catholicism was banned in England, but the popularity of Hot Cross buns continued. Queen Elizabeth I passed a law banning the consumption of Hot Cross Buns except during festivals such as Easter, Christmas and funerals. From then on, Hot Cross Buns became the “Marshmallow Peeps” of their time.

Hot Cross BunsYou may remember this catchy little tune from when you were a kid:

Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns
One a penny
Two a penny
Hot cross buns
If you have no daughters
Give them to your sons
One a penny
Two a penny
Hot cross buns

That nursery rhyme was born from the original cries of the English street sellers who would advertise their wares by crying out “Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns”.

PretzelAnother treat that became a well known part of early Easter tradition was the baked pretzel. Although, most of its manifestations were not “sweet”; this baked food also became a symbol of Easter goodness. Its very design, consisting of twists, was seen to resemble arms that were crossed in prayer.

The tradition of these “treats”, which were tied directly with the religious aspects of Easter, continued on through the years. But in the early 1800’s, fans of Easter sought to up the ante. It was then that Chocolate would find its way into this sacred holiday.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

In Europe, during the early 1800’s, Chocolate was all the rage. It was the treat of choice for most middle and upper class denizens. Chocolatiers sought to use the image of the egg as a way to celebrate Easter and sell their products.

The symbol of the egg, which was already being used in Easter festivities at this time, had been a pagan symbol representing fertility and re-birth in pagan times. It had been adopted as part of the Christian Easter festival and it came to represent the ‘resurrection’ or re-birth of Christ after the crucifixion and some believe it is a symbol of the the stone blocking the Sepulcher being ‘rolled’ away. It was during this time the first chocolate Easter egg appeared in Germany and France and soon spread to the rest of Europe and beyond.

Chocolate EggsThe first chocolate eggs were solid, soon followed by hollow eggs. Although making hollow eggs at that time was no mean feat, because the easily worked chocolate we use today didn’t exist then, they had to use a paste made from ground roasted Cacao beans. By the turn of the 19th Century, the discovery of the modern chocolate making process and improved mass manufacturing methods meant that the Chocolate Easter Egg was fast becoming the Easter Gift of choice in the UK and parts of Europe, and by the 1960’s it was well established worldwide.

Chocolate treats grew in popularity and became the primary Easter candy throughout the world and in America all through the 20th century. Chocolate treats would expand into all sorts of images beyond the “egg”, including bunnies, birds, and all other sorts of spring and Easter based symbols. 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are currently made for Easter each year.

Of Course, We Can’t Forget Jelly Beans

Jelly BeansIn the 1930’s, the ever popular Jelly Bean was added to the Easter lineup. Jelly Beans, believed to be descendants of a Mid-eastern confection known as Turkish Delight, were already a very popular candy in America by this time and were featured in glass jars on store counters all over the country. Because of their egg-like shape, jelly beans became associated with the Easter Bunny, who by this time had rapidly gained fame after the Civil War as the harbinger of Easter and was believed to deliver eggs as a symbol of new life during the spring season. The two seemed a perfect match and Jelly Beans stuck as one of the quintessential Easter candies. Currently, 16 billion jelly beans are made for Easter; with “red” jelly beans being the hands-down favorite.

While the chocolate candies and jelly beans are two of the most well known forms of Easter candy, hundreds of other types of sweet morsels would attempt to fight their way into Easter notoriety over the coming years. Existing candy companies would alter their lineups with additional products, think pastel colored M&M’s, while other candy companies would be created for the sheer purpose of producing great holiday candies. This would all lead to a billion dollar industry of different candies vying for your attention. However, no new candy invention would ever come close to the “shot heard round the world” that was the Marshmallow Peep.

The Peeps Begin their Rise to World Domination

Marshmallow PeepsFrom a history compiled by Slate.com... In 1917, Sam Born, a Russian immigrant, opened a small candy shop in New York City that sold chocolates and other confections. When the company grew, Born relocated it to Bethlehem, Pa., and named it Just Born, after a slogan he’d coined to advertise the freshness of his wares. Then, in 1953, Just Born bought a local Pennsylvania confectioner called the Rodda Candy Company.

Although Just Born acquired Rodda for its jelly-bean-making capabilities, the Born family was fascinated with the three-dimensional marshmallow Easter chicks, called Peeps, which Rodda was also making at the time. Lauren Easterly, the Peeps brand manager at Just Born, said that a group of women at Rodda made Peeps by hand in the back of the factory. In 1953, it took Rodda 27 hours to make one Peep. Just Born mechanized Peep production and was able to bring the confection to consumers on a mass scale by 1954.

No one at Just Born could explain why the Rodda Candy Company thought yellow chicks made for appropriate Easter candies. Company spokesmen also couldn’t confirm whether Rodda was making marshmallow confections in other shapes in 1953, although Rodda did manufacture marshmallow eggs at one point. Whatever shapes Rodda was making, however, Just Born zeroed in on the chick; the company didn’t start distributing the marshmallow candy in other shapes (such as bunnies) until the 1960s.

The Peep would grow in popularity and become the most well known symbol of Easter candy. Each Easter season, Americans buy more than 700 million Marshmallow Peeps, shaped like chicks, as well as Marshmallow Bunnies and Marshmallow Eggs, making them the most popular non-chocolate Easter candy. Each day, five million marshmallow chicks and bunnies are produced in preparation for Easter with yellow Peeps being the most popular, followed by pink, lavender, blue, and white.

Lord of the PeepsPeeps have also gone beyond their obvious appeal as a simple candy. They have achieved somewhat of a “cult” status all over the world. Everything from Peep based “science experiments” and Peep Erotica, to movie releases like “Lord of the Peeps” keep peoples love for the sugary snack fresh. These days, nothing symbolizes Easter and Spring quite like your child throwing up marshmallow peeps. It’s now a tradition rooted deep into the grain of our culture.