Decorated eggs as a holiday tradition predates Christianity. Eggs were seen as the symbol of birth. An inanimate object that newborn life emerges from. Painting or decorating eggs was a way of honoring life, especially at the beginning of the Spring season where once again plants bloom. Easter both falls just before the spring season begins, and is a celebration of rebirth, or more specific the day that Jesus arose from the dead. It was inevitable that the tradition of coloring eggs would be introduced to the otherwise dull Easter celebration. The Easter Bunny was another story. It’s origins came from an early mistaken belief that rabbits laid eggs. Out of all animals rabbits were the most prolific of breeders. Females were practically born pregnant. Naturally rabbits would also be tied in to the overall rebirth theme. And thus began the tradition of a rabbit laying colored eggs on Easter day. Initially a silly miracle where rabbits everywhere would lay colored eggs on Easter eve which eventually turned into a single Easter Bunny who laid the colored eggs at the homes of good children. As part of a German tradition children would build a nest and leave it on the table in hopes that the Easter Bunny would lay his eggs. Others had the bunny laying it’s eggs randomly around and sometimes outside of the house which the children would then have to search for. Nest building gradually became simplified by placing straw in a basket, and the tradition of an Easter Basket was born. But as people began to realize that rabbits were incapable of laying eggs parents began a new tradition. Allowing their children to decorate the eggs. While the Easter Bunny would no longer deliver colored eggs candy makers came up with many other things for the rodent to deliver on Easter. These new candies surpassed the egg itself in popularity among children. After all, while candy is yummy, an egg is still just an egg even if it is colored.
From the Tea of the Aztecs
Chocolate has a dark history. Cocoa Beans had been used by the Aztecs and other native Americans to make a sweet drink for thousands of years. After the Spanish conquest of Mexico the drink was brought to Europe where it became a sensation. The only problem was that the Cocoa tree could only grow in warm tropical regions. This lead to Cocoa plantations in Central America which were inevitably worked using slave labor. It is a sad fact that for the first three hundred years that Cocoa and Chocolate was sold thousands of Native Americans and Africans were worked to death to produce it. In 1847 the company of Joseph Fry and Sons perfected a process of refining the Cocoa into Chocolate that created the first Chocolate bars. Once in bar form the Chocolate could then be melted and solidified again into other shapes. Inevitably moulds were made to shape the Chocolate, one which was rabbit shaped. By the early 1900s Chocolate makers had begun promoting the Chocolate Easter Bunny as an addition to the standard Easter basket. This would begin the tradition of adding candy to the Easter basket that would phase out the popularity of the colored hard boiled eggs.
Reagan Loved Them, But They Were Made for Lincoln
During the civil war candy maker William Schrafft was looking to sell candy to the Union Army but was running into a problem. While the Union Army was open to the idea of providing their soldiers with treats they did not want them soiling their uniforms or gumming up their guns with sticky candy residue. And most of what Schrafft’s had to offer was both sticky and prone to melt in the heat of summer. The solution was a gummy style candy made from gelatin and corn syrup covered with a hard glaze sealed with bee’s wax. The new candy was called a jelly bean and came in one flavor, sugar. jelly beans were not exactly a hit and while Schraffts would go on to popularize other candies and ice cream it would abandon the bean. Other companies picked up on the idea and began adding colors and flavors to the shell. It was the multi colors that would eventually lead to the beans being added to Easter baskets in the 1930s.During the Great Depression chocolate would become a bit too expensive and parents began to look for a inexpensive substitute for the chocolate bunny. Because the beans resembled colored Easter eggs they were both a suitable candy substitution for chocolate and for colored eggs themselves as parents could not really afford to boil and color more than a single egg per child. While over they years there has been hundreds of different jelly bean flavors, bags of jelly beans almost always contain the same eight flavors; Licorice, Vanilla, Orange, Grape, Cherry, and then Lemon, Lime and Pink Lemonade which is all basically the same flavor. ( A Lime is an unripened Lemon while Pink Lemonade is regular Lemonade with twice as much sugar and red food coloring.)
They Almost Look Like Chickens.
Peeps would have probably gone on to obscurity if not for the jelly bean. It began with the Rodda Candy Company who in 1951 began hand squeezing marshmallows through a pastry tube then coating the glob with sugar and yellow food coloring. By twisting it a certain way while squeezing the tube the marshmallow glob had the slight appearance of being a chick. Rodda was a small company that only sold their products locally. The peeps were only available in a few stores. It was not the peeps that got Rodda attention but their jelly beans which had a reputation of being among the nation’s best. The much larger Just Born Candy Company offered to buy Rodda’s technology for manufacturing their jelly beans and ended up buying the whole company. Now owning the company that made peeps they nearly discontinued the product as it was hand made, but reconsidered and created a machine capable of mass producing them. Initially they were promoted as Easter candy, but eventually other shapes and colors were introduced that would allow peeps to be made for other holidays, such as a Jack-o-lantern peep for Halloween.
When Real Eggs Are Not Good Enough
Among the different shapes Chocolate was sold in was that of an egg. But it would be the bunny shape that won out in popularity for the Easter basket. With the economic boom of the 1920s parents could afford to splurge on chocolate and chocolate bunnies went from being a luxury for the rich kids to being something that every working class family had in their baskets come Easter morning. The Great Depression ended that prosperity as well as made the ingredients for chocolate a bit more expensive. The jelly bean took over as the standard candy the Easter Bunny delivered. Chocolate makers were desperate to somehow get back into the market, and they came up with two strategies. One was to make the bunnies hollow. Using a special mould that produced two halves of the bunny and then melting the two halves together they were able to manufacture chocolate rabbits that were the same size as they had always been but used 90% less chocolate. The second strategy was smaller rabbits, about bite sized. By the 1940s as working class parents began to once again buy chocolate it was the large hollow rabbit that won out. Manufacturers of the bite sized tried to remain in the market by putting foil around their bunnies. These foils were often colored and occasionally printed the eyes, nose and clothing the Easter bunny wore onto the foil. Deciding that asking parents to buy two different sized chocolate bunnies probably would not work they came up with the idea of once again using the egg shape.
Small egg shaped chocolates were made that were only slightly larger than the jelly beans and covered with colored foil. As prosperity returned to America parents began to splurge and add a variety of candies to their children’s Easter basket. The standard became the large hollow chocolate bunny, the jelly beans and peeps. Chocolate foil eggs were still optional but looked like they were on the fast track to being another basket standard. Other candy manufacturers sought to cash in on this new found market with their own versions of eggs. The Overlay Candy Company had invented malted milk balls in 1939 initially calling them Giants but eventually changing the candy’s name to Whoppers. In 1952 they decided to alter the shape of the balls to oval and sell special edition malted Easter Eggs. Cadbury had come up with a chocolate egg in 1923 that was filled with a cream which had always been sold as a luxury item, a candy way too expensive for the average basket. In 1971 they decided to re-imagine their eggs and mass produce them as an affordable candy. The new Cadbury Easter Egg had two separate creams, the outer cream white and the inner cream yellow as a facsimile of what the insides of a real egg looked like. Reese’s got into the game in the 80’s with their Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. Harry Bernett Reese had invented the Peanut Butter Cup in 1928 which was just one among many different chocolate treats his company made. During the second World War with the rationing of ingredients Reese was forced to cut back on manufacturing chocolate. Discontinuing all but the Peanut Butter cup he continued to manufacture it exclusively, and it has remained that way ever since with the company only producing variations on the cup. Their egg was one of those variations, another chocolate foil egg but with a peanut butter filling.