Once upon a time, many years ago, the music editor at the alt-weekly where I used to work in St. Louis threw a Peep at the ceiling over his desk. It stuck. Five years later when the paper moved offices, the Peep was still there, as pristine and yellow as the day it landed up there.
I never had Peeps as a child because no one ever gave me an Easter basket, but the one on the ceiling told me all I ever thought I needed to know about Peeps. Peeps are solid and dependable and you probably eat them at your peril.
Two weeks ago, the very day The Takeout’s offices closed for social distancing, a very kind PR woman at Peeps emailed me and asked if she should send a sample box of Peeps’ new breakfast line to me at home or at work. I sent her my home address and forgot all about it until more than a week later when I saw a package on my doorstep. It’s always thrilling to receive a package, but even more so when you’re cooped up at home and only engaging with the outside world through a keyboard and a screen. I didn’t even care that the box said “Peeps.” My partner Jeff did, though. “Peeps? What the hell is that?” he asked. Since he comes from people who do give out Easter baskets, I assumed the question was rhetorical. But he clarified: “What is that garbage box doing here? It’s nasty, nasty, nasty.”
That evening I opened the package and looked at it. It was bright and very, very cheerful. “That is the happiest, yet most vile package that I have ever seen,” my cousin wrote after I posted a photo on Facebook.
For several days, I let the box sit on the floor of the spare bedroom. It was nice to have, a reminder of the outside world. And then yesterday morning, Peeps announced that it would be halting production in the run-up to Easter and I realized it was time. I needed to let the world know how these breakfast-flavored Peeps tasted.
(Okay, no, I didn’t think that. The news was a reminder that the Peeps were still there, and that my cabin fever was finally bad enough that I should do something about them. But in a time when staying home and doing nothing is considered heroic... well, the movies had always led me to expect more out of a global crisis.)
With the aid and supervision of my loyal dog, Joe, I unpacked the box of Peeps and set about tasting the contents.
Did it ever occur to anybody at Kellogg’s that maybe the name Peeps Marshmallow Flavored Cereal With Marshmallows was a bit of overkill? Maybe they keep it that way for legal reasons? Anyway, Peeps Marshmallow Flavored Cereal With Marshmallows has existed for a while with pieces of white marshmallow. A former coworker admitted to having paid actual money for a box, but she didn’t reply when I asked her how it had tasted. But this year, Peeps cereal has red, yellow, and blue chick- and bunny-shaped marshmallows. I can’t imagine that this would make a difference to people, but it’s possible I’m underestimating how excited people get about cereal marshmallows. I mean, it was a huge event in my childhood when Lucky Charms added the purple horseshoe. They even had to rewrite the jingle.
Anyway, I could smell the Peeps cereal as soon as I poured it into the bowl. It smelled like pure high-fructose corn syrup, and it made me slightly nauseated. (I admit, as an adult, I am not the intended audience.) I added the milk and took a spoonful. It tasted just like... sugar! It didn’t taste like Peeps precisely because it didn’t have the soft marshmallow texture, only a lot of crunch. Which isn’t really what you want when you eat Peeps.
The colors are really pretty and festive, though.
I think these are close in color to actual chickens. That’s not the only authentic thing about them: they actually smell and taste like syrup!
To be more accurate: they do not taste like maple syrup. They taste like the artificial Bisquick and Aunt Jemima “syrup” that’s actually mostly sugar. But hey, no one ever said “maple syrup.” People just sort of mentally add “maple” when they see “syrup” and “pancakes” together.
These do not taste like pancakes. But who ever ate pancakes and syrup together for the pancake?
Do Peeps have a flavor? Besides sugar, I mean? I’m still not entirely sure. I made a cup of coffee for the express purpose of trying this creamer. It didn’t totally ruin the coffee, which is a plus. Mostly it tasted like chemicals, like every other International Delight flavored creamer. If pressed, I would say it’s a lot like French Vanilla or maybe Irish Creme.
I could not bring myself to open this up and taste it. It’s so pretty. And I know it will taste awful, because Froot Loops taste awful. I think it would make a nice, cheerful gift for someone in these sad, socially distanced times. Maybe they could put it in a vase and admire it, like a bouquet of flowers. It would be in very, very poor taste to hand over a gift with a bite taken out of it.
Also, it’s not a pop. Pops are things that you lick. This is four Peeps on a stick.
Joe didn’t get to taste any of the Peeps. He was very upset about it and barked and whined and head-butted my arm until I took him for a walk.