Peeps heat up Easter traditions

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    By Jennifer Guertin

    A visitor to Nola Smith”s home around Easter might find the entire family gathered around the microwave laughing hysterically while, inside the microwave, two inflated marshmallow chicks, called Peeps, skewer each other with toothpicks.

    “We call it Peeps jousting,” said Smith, a BYU graduate. “When the Peeps get a little stale, we put them on paper plates facing each other in the microwave with toothpicks stuck in the front. When you turn the microwave on high, they swell up really big and look like they”re advancing on each other. We make fake bets on which one is going to stab the other. It”s silly, but we do it every year.”

    Smith said her family has been playing with Peeps since the early 1990s. Others have mutilated and munched the sugary sweets far longer.

    Marshmallow Peeps celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. Their parent company, Just Born, opened in 1923 when Sam Born and two brothers-in-law started a small candy factory in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Thirty years later, they acquired Rodda Candy Company in Lancaster, Pa., and began filling Easter baskets with Peeps, animal-shaped confections originally made by hand-squeezing marshmallow through pastry tubes.

    Since 1953, the company has expanded from marshmallow chicks and rabbits at Easter to hearts for Valentine”s Day, pumpkins for Halloween and stars for the Fourth of July. They produce about 1.2 billion Peeps each year, 700 million of these for Easter alone.

    Many of the Peeps sold never make it to the mouths of consumers.

    “They”re not that good to eat,” Smith said. “They”re much more fun to play with. It”s cheap fun. It appeals to your baser instincts.”

    Smith”s daughter, Roslyn, said she agrees.

    “I don”t really like Peeps,” Roslyn said. “But it”s fun to watch them in the microwave. They expand really fast until they don”t look like Peeps anymore. Then they shrink into little mutated blobs.”

    The Smiths aren”t the only ones who enjoy torturing the sweet treats.

    “One time me and my friend decided to see how long it would take to make one explode,” said Amy Thompson, a student at Utah Valley State College. “We put it in the microwave for five minutes. It was like charcoal. It was pretty neat, though.”

    Spencer and Kristin Green had Peeps wars as children.

    “We”d tear them up and throw them at each other,” said Kristin, a sophomore majoring in anthropology. “Rip them up; roll them in balls. Sometimes we”d just see if we could throw them in each other”s mouths. We had pretty good times with Peeps.”

    Kristin”s brother, Spencer, a senior majoring in English, said the whole family liked the Peeps fights.

    “I think my parents even enjoyed the Peeps wars – except for the sugar,” Spencer said. “We ran around throwing them, pretending they were bombs, sticking them in each other”s pants. They were better than pillow fights because Peeps can”t really do any damage.”

    Spencer said one time when the Peeps fights got out of control he and his brother cornered Kristin and pelted her with Peeps.

    “The Peeps had gotten pretty darn old by this time,” he said. “We were just pounding her, and I think even drew some blood. It”s all fun and games until you draw blood and get sent to your room.”

    But Peeps don”t bring out the violence in everyone.

    “I like to set them out so that they”re a little dried – not such a marshmallowy mass in your mouth,” said Kirk Walton, a graduate student studying civil engineering. “Then I just inhale the sugar.”

    Spencer Wheelwright, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he doesn”t really like Peeps, but buys them every year – usually as soon as he sees them.

    “I guess I get excited because it”s an indicator that spring is here,” he said. “After I eat one, I always decide I don”t need to eat one of those again, but my sister adores them, and my dad is a big fan. We kind of have a Peeps thing going in my family. Some people don”t like them and others are crazy about them.”

    Wheelright said he plans to send a box of Peeps to his father, who serves as a mission president in London, where Peeps aren”t sold.

    Even for those who don”t engage in Peeps warfare or ship the gooey creatures across the globe, Peeps hold a place in Easter tradition.

    “I”ve gotten them in my Easter basket since I can remember,” said Kim Meadows, a student at Dallas Roberts Academy. “Can”t have Easter without my Peeps.”