I don't know when the Peep was invented, but it's very simple: marshmallow coated with colored sugar. A machine extrudes dollops of marshmallow and as the extruding guns lift up they kind of wiggle a bit, forming a shape which is reminiscent of baby chickens. For about $0.20 worth of gelatin, corn syrup, sugar, and food coloring, we pay around $1 or $2. (Of course the packaging and plant amortization and distribution costs all bump the actual wholesale cost of a package of Peeps up...but I'm not going into that now.)
When I was around 9 or 10 or so--back when Peeps only came in one color, yellow--I got some Peeps one Easter, and my sister noticed that they were "Cyclops peeps"; the machine which put on the dots of brown-colored sugar (meant to represent eyes) had obviously moved out of adjustment, so it was printing a single "eye" in the middle of the peep's forehead; the other one was 'way down the side of the peep's face and easy to miss or ignore. This was the birth of the Cyclops Peep.
Of course, the company which makes the peeps--JustBorn--has since expanded the universe of sugared marshmallow to include all manner of shapes and flavors. Come Easter you can get Peeps and Bunnies in a rainbow of color (except for plain white...?) and there are flavored ones, too. Flavored with things like chocolate or strawberry or vanilla or what-have-you, I mean, not just "marshmallow with a sugar coating"-flavored.
According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans consume 90,000,000 pounds of marshmallows per year. That's the equivalent of 4.8 BILLION Peeps. That's a PEEP HOLOCAUST!!!
Each Peep is about two inches long. 4.8 billion peeps, laid end-to-end, would make a line over 75,750 miles long--long enough to circle the Earth three times. That many peeps is about 0.8 Peeps per person in the world.
Marshmallow is called that because the original source for the stuff is althaea officinalis, a "mallow plant" which grows--yeah--in swamps or marshes. Apparently its sap is gooey stuff and can be whipped into a foam, the result of which is the common marshmallow--but no one uses that any more. No, they tend to use gelatin, because gelatin is a lot more commonly available (and cheaper), and corn syrup. What a, uh...surprise. Corn syrup is like the Schmoo of the sweetener industry. It gets used to sweeten everything, and because it can be carmelized like sugar, it can be used in place of sugar without changing the flavor very much.
Yeah, I said "very much". Anyone in the food industry who may be reading this, remember this fact: PEOPLE CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE.
I would go on and on and on about how annoying the politics of sugar are (yes, there ARE sugar politics! Who would have thought??) but I have no real interest in debating the issue of free trade versus protectionism right now. Damn it, this is supposed to be an entry about PEEPS.
Anyway, I always thought I was a bit odd, because I liked the Peeps better after they'd gotten a bit stale. Fast-forward a few years and I read an article on Peeps, and learned that other people also liked them on the stale side--not marshmallowy soft (literally) but with a bit of "tooth" to them; al dente, as it were.
When I was in college I wrote a letter to a friend of mine regarding this; I told her that I would check the stale-ness of the Peep by pressing on its "beak". If I could push the "beak" all the way to the back of the Peep without much (if any) resistance, it was not stale enough yet. Then I reported, "The problem is, when I remove my finger, the Peep then looks like a little yellow anus."
I should add for the sake of clarity that this particular person is no longer my friend...but I don't think the "little yellow anus" line had anything to do with that.
In 1999 I was running an Alternity campaign, and I needed to run a combat session where the players were storming a fort. I didn't have enough miniatures to show the locations of all the soldiers. That was the year that JustBorn started offering different colors, so I used a small army of blue bunnies to show the locations of the soldiers for which I didn't have miniatures. It even fit, since the fort was manned by aliens with blue skin. And when a soldier was taken out, I got a little snack....
It'd be nice if the Peeps Bunnies were available in white. The "chibi Totoro" (little Totoro" from My Neighbor Totoro looks a lot like those Peeps Bunnies. He's all white, so it would be cute; on the other hand I probably wouldn't be able to eat
These sugared marshmallow confections go very well in hot cocoa. You have to have real hot cocoa, though, not the stuff which comes from a pouch and is mixed with water; I mean the real stuff, made with milk and cocoa powder and sugar. That's the only way to do it.
Someone did a web site about performing various "scientific" experiments on Peeps Bunnies. They froze one in liquid nitrogen and struck it with a hammer; naturally it shattered. They shot it with a 40-watt laser and burned "sunglasses" onto its face. AND they subjected it to microwave radiation.
They reported that the Peeps Bunny, when subjected to a sufficient quantity of microwave radiation, would mutate and expand to several times its size...but that the mutated form was easily subdued with the use of some chocolate and graham crackers....