A Glimpse into the History of Easter Candy
Posted by Failed Success on 04/14/06 at 07:11 PM
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 parts of 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.
Americans 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.
You 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”.
Another 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.
The 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
In 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, few candy inventions could come close to the phenomena that would be the Marshmallow Peep.
The Peeps Begin their Rise to Domination
From 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 one of the most well known symbols of Easter candy in the United States, and increasingly in other parts of the world as well. 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.
Peeps have also gone beyond their obvious appeal as a simple candy. They have achieved somewhat of a “cult” status in many parts of 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.
Further Reading - Marshmallow Peeps:
- Marshmallow Peeps Official Website
- Candy Addict Easter Peep Roundup
- Why Eat Peeps at Easter? From Slate
- Lord of the Peeps (Lord of the Rings starring Peeps)
- Peep Fights
- Cooking with Peeps
Further Reading - Easter Candies and their histories:
- Candy USA! Easter candy facts
- M&M’s and Their History
- History of Chocolate Eggs
- Gourmet Sleuth Easter Candy Information
Other Easter Abnormalities:
- Mean Easter Bunny (hilarious!, thanks to ThaDocta for the link)
Discuss this Story
After reading everything on this page, I’m even more confused than ever about how candy plays into Easter. I was just interested in a little history as to when candy came into the scene. Period. I don’t care what country, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was introduced by the United States, knowing what a fat country we are.
Never seen a Peep in Ireland or the UK, though in Ireland we always had Marshmallow Eggs at Easter from as far back as I remember (1970’s).
They were usually white marshmallow coated in a thin layer of chocolate. Gateaux Easter Eggs Mallows are one of the current brands and I think Cafferys may have made them too.
Just thinking about the origin of marshmallows, there’s a town in County Cork called Mallow and this is where one of the first sugar factories was setup in Ireland (not sure when but I think during Napoleon’s time the French assisted the Irish in establishing the industry so we wouldn’t have to buy sugar from the British sugar companies - our sugar used to come from Sugar Beet as opposed to cane).
Reporting from Australia - I have never heard of Peeps (despite enjoying all the sweets of Easter I can find ;-)), also we don’t associate Jelly Beans with Easter either.
Maureen—Give up. On the internet history urban legends are the standard. Everything is “pagan”, which as a catchall name is pretty damn insulting to the various interesting religions and societies that are part of the history of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Easter is Passover and is only called “Easter” in English (and in the languages of groups that were converted by English speakers). In other languages it’s simply the native word for “Passover”. That’s why Good Friday and Easter are called the “Paschal holiday”—meaning “Passover”.
Easter is named after the month it takes place in, which is named for a goddess. Good Friday is also named for the day it takes place in, which is also named for a goddess… but nobody seems to claim it is actually celebrating Frige, the German goddess of love and beauty. For that matter, the restaurant chain Ruby Tuesdays is seldom seen as a shrine to the Norse god Tyr.
There are a few urban legends in the article itself (try finding any primary citations for hot cross buns being pagan in origin… lots of people talking, no primary data). My guess is that this “research” involved less of a visit to a historian or even a library and more of a Google hunt.
If you do want a Easter tradition that *does* have origins in an ancient, pre-Christian tradition, go for the colored eggs. While the association of eggs and Passover predates Christian Easter, eggs have been used in cultures all over the place (the Jews possibly picked it up from the Romans, but the ubiquity of eggs in various cultures makes it very hard to pin down anything). Colored eggs are a different story: the tradition of coloring eggs in Poland and Russia is older than Passover, likely older than the pyramids at Giza. Colored eggs at Easter crossed into the Christian tradition in the middle ages from the folk traditions in Poland.
But for Frige’s sake, don’t take my word for it—go to a library and crack some books. Or audit a couple of history courses at your local University. As one of my favored historical figures wrote, “To remain ignorant of what was before your birth is to ever remain a child”.
And Cicero was a pagan.
Our local newspaper had a Peeps Diorama Easter contest,and they made dioramas of easter candy,and Peeps,like all the shows on t.v."Desperate Housepeeps"with peeps dressed up,fixed,ruined,helmeted,"BrokebackMountain Peeps”,and every peep activity of humans,even locally,the Walnut Creek Festival with Peeps in the diormas; what won, was “Trojan Horse Peeps"diorama.There were tons of dioramas,football stadiums filled with peeps,and churches with pew of chocolate bars,with peeps-worshippers,and a Peep-Pope w/big hat.Great stuff. “Lost"t.v. show,with Peeps It got pretty obsessive. Even for California.
I was getting ready to move,so I could not do mine,which would have been “Beer-bust Easter-Passover party with Jews and Christians together as Peeps"in jeans,drinking,huge kegs,ect.Music. Would have been fun diorama.Sigh.More orgininal. No one did a Peeps-Oakland-Black Slums w/police/w/Black/ riots with Peeps” diorama. No reality in CA. It’s here,but these peeps lovers do not wanta depict it.Or even see it. CA=$$$.
Thanks. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a good S’more for a while, I never can seem to get it right. My biggest problem is the cracker, it breaks into several pieces when I eat it.
Eh ... too America-centric, peeps only reached Canada in the last decade or so, according to everyone else here.
They still haven’t reached Europe, so perhaps it wasn’t quite so much of a “rise to world domination”
i’ve seen some candies like what Marbles mentions here in the states, except they tend to be christmas candies - marshmallows molded in the shape of church bells or the like and given a brittle milk-chocolate coating.
I got some as stocking stuffers, as they were my last resort, because while i love chocolate i’m not too crazy about marshmallows unless they have been properly microwaved atop a graham-cracker, topped with a hershey bar (the trick is to put the bar on after, so the chocolate melts a bit over the marshmallow to help hold it together while remaining solid enough to get more choco in your mouth than on your fingers) and then another bit of graham cracker.
Yes, i came form the 80s. i believe the best way to make any food is to subject it to questionable amounts of radiation.
I’m a Canadian that grew up in 60-70’s, and I’ve hadn’t heard of peeps till maybe the 90’s (American TV ads). Saw and tried one a few years back. Have to say I like my sweets, but those things packed a wallop. Once you got past the sweetness, there wasn’t much to them, and I wasn’t all that impressed.
As for my traditional easter candies, after of course the chocolate and jelly beans, there are 2 I fondly remember.
Both marshmallow based, one was more like the molded version of peeps that another poster mentioned. Only it was a kind of stretched oval, in pastel colours, very tasty. In fact you can buy a version of it in a peanut shape/flavour all year round.
The other was kind of egged shaped, with a hard brightly coloured candy outside, then a marshmallow inside. As well these “eggs” would come in various sizes, some all most too big to get in your mouth.
Where do you live? Nunavut? Northern Quebec? Cause I live in the have-not province of NS and jelly beans have always been a part of easter here. They even get special colours around easter time, and that’s also when the sour ones come out.
And I reiterate for those who keep saying they’ve never seen Peeps in Canada - Peeps have been here for at least a decade. I’ve been eating them that long.
i find it interesting that there is a debate about the origins of “traditions”. throughout history the religion of the conqueror has always consumed the religion of the conquered. the catholic church did not hide it’s appropriation of the “pagan” traditions of the celts, romans, etc. instead, the church saw the the traditions, naturally pregnant with symbolism as they were meant to remind followers of a higher purpose or power, as a way to bridge the gap between an old way and their new way. you will notice halloween alternatives at churches in your town. they are still celebrating the holiday. we always ascribe sinister motives to others while viewing our own actions in a softer light. the men who co-opted oster were just like you and almost as good as me. hehe
this has always happened and it will again. our view of the current order as stable has been shared by peoples throughout human history. our history of religion doesn’t even come close to reaching back to the age of the oldest cities now being found submerged in the ocean. the pagan religions some love are relatively new in terms of human civilization and christianity is brand-spanking new. not a good vantage point from which to judge the world.
the earl of non seuitur,
VERY usa-centric article. another canadian here, and funnily enough i saw peeps for the very first time this year in canada. i had never heard of them before. id also like to agree that ive NEVER heard of jelly beans being an easter candy.
Interesting. I have been through 38 Easters, and have consumed loads of Easter chocolates in my time, but I have never heard of Peeps. I asked around after reading this article, and no one I know has heard of them either. Must be an American thing.
Ahem. Stale peeps ? Spoiled. Some of us prefer our Just Born Peeps to age a bit, like a fine wine.
to #13: Peeps are a shaped marshmallow coated in colored sugar. Their primary connection to easter, aside from representing what traditionally comes out of eggs when hatched, is that Easter is when american grocery stores get a bunch in stock, which go on sale a few days later. since marshmallows are all sugar and gelatin, peeps take a loooong time to spoil/become stale and thusly linger on store shelves for quite a while because nobody really likes eating them.
What about Easter island? I watched a special a while back on the History Channel talked all about how the natives of easter island, in the spring, would race to find the first bird egg of the season. The family that found the egg would rule the island for the following year.
They went on to mention that once Europeans visited the island (1722) and learned of this ritual, they brought back the tradition. This lead to easter egg hunts and the “Easter Egg” that we all asociate with the holiday today.
Just like poster #13 I have never in my life heard of “Peeps”, and have certainly never seen one here in New Zealand. Also, when the hell did jelly beans become associated with Easter?.. This is the first I’ve heard of it.
what the hell are those peep things?… In Australia we don’t have them. It’s all about the chocolate. How can those things even compare to the popularity of chocolate?.. Marshmallows at easter? ‘mericans are weird.
To the best of my knowledge, Pancake day, or as it’s known ‘Pancake Tuesday’ isn’t a generic celebration at all and I’ve never heard of it being celebrated outside of religious conotations. Pancake Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and Ash Wednesday is the start of the fasting season Lent. During Lent in ‘days of yore’ you weren’t supposed to eat eggs and so all of the eggs in the house would be used up the night before Lent began by making and eating pancakes, thus Pancake Tuesday.
I was born in the late 40’s and grew up in the 50’s. I distinctly remember getting marshmallow chicks in my Easter baskets every year. But the ones I remember were very different than the ones you see today. In fact, when I had kids in the late 70’s and started making Easter baskets I was stunned at how ugly the Peep chicks are now!
The ones I remember were quite separate and individual. They were formed in molds so that they looked like a standing chick with dimension and detail. I hate the blobbey extruded quintuplets!
I also remember them tasting much better. It didn’t take them long to begin to get hard and that’s when they were best ? with the head and the outsides crunchy and the thicker body area still soft.
I write because in all the stories that are written now about Peeps no one ever acknowledges these molded chicks of my memory. It’s possible they were made by another company that got overwhelmed by Just Born but it’s a sad loss because they really were infinitely superior.
Very little is known for certain about Easter-like festivities prior to Christianity, in Europe. A few things can be guessed at. The “Well Dressing” season in the Northwest of England starts around now and is very closely linked to rebirth/regeneration. Now would also be about the time “Corn Dolls” would be planted into the soil to release the nature spirits back into the ground. With no written records dating back to pre-Roman times, it is very hard to say more than that. The proximity of “pancake day” (when traditionally households ate all perishable goods, cooked as a massively fattening food, in a single day) is suggestive that ancient Europeans took their sweet foods seriously, but nothing really survives to say how these three religious ceremonies are connected (assuming they are) or what specific foods were involved in any of them.
Re: post #7
Peeps made it to Canada a looonnng time ago. I’ve been eating their sugary goodness for well over a decade. And I’ve never left the country.
95% of all ‘Christian’ beliefs, holidays, theology, and customs are simply recycled and repackaged beliefs and ideas from the history of humankind.
The Trinity is based off of Egyptian gods, (including Ra)
The Resurrection - the Phoenix,
The Virgin Birth - zoroastrian religion,
Human sacrifice / Animal sacrifice - multiple religions
forgiveness/redemption/etc - multiple religions.
EASTER is from the goddess Estra, The Anglo Saxon Goddess of Spring and rebirth (fertility). ‘Christianized’ in the eight century.
Valentines day is based off of courting /mating pagan practices.
Halloween - harvest season (and the dangers of surviving winter).
Christmas - Winter Solstice - The beginning of the lengthening of days
(very important when the end of the world is 3 winters back to back with no summers (Ragnarok) http://www.pantheon.org/articles/r/ragnarok.html )
The ‘Christmas Tree’ actually a pagan tree of eternal life - an Evergreen tree that bares apple fruit all year round.
If you can get past all the genocide and war crimes committed by the Roman Catholic Church (and it’s servants) - you discover the world was once a place rich with thousands of gods and religions, many quite peaceful, nature oriented, and earth friendly.
One can only hope the sins committed in the name of Jesus will not be held against those who claim to be his followers. “Who Would Jesus Torture?”
For all the people of European decent, meet the gods of your forefathers:
For everyone else on the planet, meet your lost civilizations:
sadly, the poster has no idea of the real status of peeps. For it to be world domination, i’d expect them to be sold in most countries, not simply in the States (it hasn’t made it to Canada, and i doubt it would make it across the ocean first). i’ve never eaten a peep, and i’m fairly sure i could ask 20 people who would reply the same.
Passover is the celebration of the Hebrew escape from the enslavement of their former Egyptian masters. Not at all the nonsense as stated above :
the punishment of the Jewish people who still followed their pagan beliefs (yes, the Jewish beliefs were primarily pagan before the war god, Yahweh, came on to the scene).
The word “ PASSOVER” refers to the tenth of the plagues God sent to the Egyptians to inspire them to release the Hebrews from bondage. God’s angel of death (robots, androids?) visited all of the Egyptian households and smote their first born.The Egyptians had done the same to the Hebrews earlier in history. The angel of death knew to avoid the Hebrew households or to PASS OVER THEM” because the Hebrews were instructed to paint blood of a sacrificial lamb upon their doorposts on the prescribed evening. After this the Egyptian Pharoh released them, but later had second thoughts.
What about the Cadbury Creme Egg. Nothing say Easter like the sugar coma induced by one of these bsbies.
BTW-All the really cool stuff we celebrate in association with christian holidays seems to be originally pagan or commercially driven from ~1850-1950. The Christians wouldn’t have gained much of a foothold in the ancient world without placing their holidays on already established pagan celebrations, and then appropriating the symbology and practices for their own purposes.
Remember, if your having fun on a christian holiday you have a pagan or a marketer to thank.
The vast majority of folk tradition are alleged to have pagan origins. But the important word here is “alleged”. I’ve seen customs that started within my lifetime alleged to have ancient pagan origins. Heck, I’ve started customs and legends myself (in college) which I later heard were supposedly ancient! *roll eyes*
Amazingly enough, the vast majority of popular European and American folk traditions turn out to be either secular in origin or Christian as Christian can be—and usually Catholic, at that. If folks want everything to be pagan and ancient instead of medieval or Renaissance or Victorian, they should ask themselves why they’re so desperate to escape the simple truth.
Easter has been celebrated for thousands of years, and the celebration has always included treats, just as the harvest celebrations do. The bright colors are, of course, symbolic of the coming of springtime and associated colors.
Passover happens when Easter does because Passover was the punishment of the Jewish people who still followed their pagan beliefs (yes, the Jewish beliefs were primarily pagan before the war god, Yahweh, came on to the scene). It’s easy to see, and to find out through a little study, that Easter predates Christianity by a long time, and even predates the patriarchal form of Judaism.
When you write an article about the history of Easter candy and treats, it might help to keep in mind that, while the recent several hundred years are certainly interesting, there’s quite a bit of previous history, too.
That’s true, Easter as a “holiday” and celebration dates back thousands of years, beyond much of the symbolism that we attribute Easter with today. While doing research for this article, I really had a hard time finding much information on Easter"ish" treats prior to the middle ages in Europe. I chose to start the article with that time period due to my inability to find previous candy or treat history. If you have some links or resources where more information about Easter celebration treats and “candies” prior to the middle ages, please share them with me. I would love to learn more about the history of Easter treats into ancient times.
Perhaps you should attribute your quotes about Peeps. You link to the Slate article without mentioning that you copied and pasted entire paragraphs about Peeps from it.
You’re right, I had those particular paragraphs blockquoted but for some reason my tags didn’t take. I didn’t notice it until you pointed it out, it has been repaired
I had a long conversation the other day with a German national friend of mine who lives in the same town as myself. He was bemoaning the lack of German pretzels in Japan and after some conversation I came to find out that pretzels pre-date the introduction of Christianity to western Europe. Specifically, the knot represented by the pretzel (and a good quality pretzel always has more than just one twist) is an element of pagan tradition. I don’t remember what it was specifically (wealth or longevity?), but that he mentioned it was similar to the concept of “bringing in the greens” observed before the invention of the Christmas holiday tradition of the tree. As an American, I grew up with the story of it being a symbol of prayer so naturally I was suprised to find out that the Christian background was apocryphal (such as the example mentioned about hot cross buns).