Peeps Show

peepstreeMy adopted home town, Bethlehem, PA calls itself the Christmas City, a title that, in fact, it shares with a number of other cities named not only Bethlehem but Santa Claus (Arizona) and Jolly (Kentucky). But there is another title that belongs to this city alone: Bethlehem, PA is the home of the Peep.

Living in Bethlehem means that just about all of your holidays will be celebrated in the shadow of the Peep. Want to see a movie at the city’s only indie theater during Christmas week? First you’ll have to wend your way around a fifteen-foot- tall tree made entirely of green Peep chicks. As for New Year’s Eve, you can celebrate by watching a giant (85 pound) yellow Peep drop, as fireworks go off in the background. Of course, Easter is the academy-award season of the Peep, and who will ever forget the local paper’s front-page coverage of the Passion-Week diorama in which all roles were played by Peeps?

Bethlehem, PA is the site of JustBorn, where the iconic Easter candy came into its own. Sam Born, the company’s founder, moved his candy manufacturing and retail business from Brooklyn, NY to Bethlehem in 1932. In 1953, JustBorn acquired the Rodda Candy Company, “known for its jelly bean technology.” Even more important, Rodda also produced, “a small line of marshmallow products that interested the JustBorn family.”


no-peeps-for-youWhen Sam Born’s son developed a mechanical assembly-line process to replace the original handheld pastry-bag approach (which took 27 hours to produce a single chick), the Peep took flight. Well, not literally.

The numbers have soared—in 2012, the company produces more than 4.2 million marshmallow Peeps each day—but alas, the Peep’s wings were clipped in the late fifties, “to produce, a sleeker, more modern product,” according to a “Fun Fact” in a sidebar on the JustBorn site. All information in this paragraph and the following one is from the official website, which also features an online store, so that you can easily order a gross or two of the ever-expanding Peeps line.

Beginning in the nineties, Peeps began to appear in different colors besides yellow, pink and white, starting with lavender, followed by blue and green, and the chick and his rabbit sidekick were joined by snowmen, trees, hearts, pumpkins, ghosts, and black cats.

peepseggThe 21st century has seen a new, hipper entry—the chocolate-covered Peepster. For the best of all Peep worlds, check out the “Peeps chick inside a chocolate egg”—a kind of Peducken. But no matter how far the line of products extends (and it extends to socks, mouse pads, and golf towels), the name Peeps will always conjure up that (literally) hardcore yellow chick.

The Internet is full of lore about the Peep—not just inspired competitions like Peep Toss or Peep haiku, but experiments involving its destruction (by hammer, liquid nitrogen, the microwave, etc. See—and the most interesting fact of all is that none of this material is exaggerated. There are even sites that will tell you the best way to eat a peep (start with the head—an homage to the original geek shows?).

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Peep is the fact that it is such a terrible treat. One of the newest spin-offs is the Sugar-Free Peep—no stranger to evolution, the Peep has hopped on the wellness bandwagon—but sugar would seem to be the point of this confection.

peepscolorsBreak the plastic seal on a pack of Peeps—where they roost like a shelf of immobilized hormone-fed chickens--and you have approximately 15 seconds before that little yellow chick calcifies into something approximating rock.

Interestingly enough, as one local amateur Peeps enthusiast told me, “People seem to fall into two camps—those who eat Fresh Peeps and those who like stale Peeps.” He concluded by saying, “I actually prefer my Peeps stale.”

If you manage to tear one—fresh or stale—away from its flock and take a bite, you will discover—nothing. The dark secret inside Peeps is that there is no taste—only a rather sticky mouthful of air.


Carolyn Foster Segal is an essayist and teacher of creative writing who lives in Bethlehem, PA. She is also one of the facilitators for a book-group project--"American Life Stories"--sponsored by the PA Humanities Council.