Easter is here, and with it, many clumps of lamb, jelly beans, hard-boiled eggs and perhaps best of all, Marshmallow Peeps. Is there anyone out there who could attest to recalling one past Easter season where they hadn't eaten a single Marshmallow Peep? Probably, but they're liars. While Peeps have migrated to other holiday celebrations in more recent years, they'll always be the most synonymous with good ol' Easter. The holiday with so little going for it. An Easter basket with a 99-cent Hot Wheels car was not going to throw the occasion alongside Christmas in tied-for-first situation, and yet, those Easter baskets weren't even great enough to beat out Halloween for second place. Kids appreciated Easter for the time off from school, but any feigned interest in costumed bunny people stemmed only from the fact that getting free chocolate on an April Sunday was better than getting nothing at all.

The egg-coloring event was always sorta fun, but nothing beat a Peep. For centuries, we've wondered just how Marshmallow Peeps were actually created. How could such a loosely coherent mass of marshmallow be so perfectly chick-shaped? Why did colored sugar taste so much better than regular sugar? How could we love those chicks so much and still never feel remorse for biting their heads off? So many questions left unanswered, and nearly to date, nobody knew how a Marshmallow Peep was even born. Well, times have changed. Technology has improved. You can order pizza online. You can watch DVDs in your car. You can chew up a corkboard, spit it on a plate and try to persuade people into believing it's edible tuna. Best of all, you can now make your very own Marshmallow Peeps, right in your very own kitchen. I bet Jean Dixon never predicted that one.

Wham-O's Peeps Marshmallow Maker gives kids the chance to accomplish the previously unthinkable: the POWAHH to create their own Peeps. I've seen the playset mentioned in a bunch of places over the past several months, though I should admit that it sounds better in theory than it actually works out on the table. Still, for something that's priced low at just fifteen bucks, it's entertaining enough to warrant the money spent. Most of today's toys cost more, and very few of them present any candy to eat.

It's just the last of a long line of "real cooking toys" to arrive in recent years. While the Easy Bake Oven was almost the lone standard for a few decades, now children have everything from Cracker Jack cookers to Hostess ovens that make genuine Twinkies. Snoopy's ice-shaving adventures are now competed with by the likes of that Hawaiian Punch dude and the polar bear from Icee machines. It's too bad being a housewife has fallen out of favor as a lifelong dream; little girls are really getting an early start at the craft these days.

There's the parts, each kept clean and safe in its own little sealed baggie. Wham-O is absolutely bag-crazy -- the box boasts an included coupon for Peeps candy savings, and even the coupon had its own bag. It's a serious choking hazard, too. With so many to rip open, kids will universally grow bored with using their fingers after the eighth or ninth bag, then switching to the timeless teeth-clench-pull. When plastic and teeth meet, choking is never far behind.

Actually, I think the bag-madness is just to make the playset appear larger and more involved than it really is. Compared to most of the other cooking toys, this is pretty low-end stuff. No batteries needed, no plugs, no heat. Nothing that seems at all dangerous or elusive to kids under 10. The Peeps Marshmallow Maker is the premiere toy to give children with bad reputations.

After following the thankfully direct instructions to connect the plastic parts, you're left with a vague device that looks like it's capable of doing something, though its appearance isn't letting on quite what that something is. Take off the "Peeps" stickers, and you're left with what looks to be a new way to devil deviled eggs:

Incredibly, the simple machine shown above is our ticket to Peepsville. It's an amazing process filled with chemical marshmallow packets and little dip-plates full of colored sugarsprinkles. If you've only heard of the Peeps Marshmallow Maker in passing, here's a step-by-step inspection of the fifteen-dollar miracle machine. I lifted this paragraph from a JC Penney catalog.

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Our journey begins with an assessment of the tools. The machine includes three Peeps marshmallow molds -- you get the classic chick, two stars, an Easter egg and a heart. Enough to celebrate any occasion. The fourth mold, with Christmas shapes, came inside the Marshmallow Peeps Refill Kit -- a necessary evil for those who prefer to make shitloads of Peeps at a time. The molds are adequate enough, but they provide Peeps of a much smaller persuasion than what we're used to buying in stores. Don't expect full-sized Peeps; for just fifteen bucks, you take what you can get.

On the right are the assorted mixes and one of the colored sugar packets. The ingredients are eerily similar to that of any Sea Monkeys kit -- you've got "Mix #1," "Mix #2" -- we're one "Instant Life" packet away from eating something worth suing over. The entire process of making Peeps takes less than ten minutes, so if the amount of packets and tools and strange plastic machines seems daunting, find solace in knowing that it'll all be over soon.

Step One: Empty "Marshmallow Mix #1" into the Peeps Superchamber. Add one tablespoon of "very warm" water. Stir until the ingredients act as one. The end result is a rather milky, sweet-smelling liquid that you'll absolutely want to drink. You must resist. You need this holy juice to make the Peeps. Divert your attention with a deep appreciation of how Wham-O themed the mix stirrer to look precisely like the Marshmallow Maker's chick-topper. It'll buy you the needed ten seconds before Step Two.

Step Two: It's time to blow the roof off with the addition of "Marshmallow Mix #2," which grants your creation the requisite foaminess of any honest-to-goodness Peep. To be honest, the stuff is exactly the same as Marshmallow Fluff, and if so desired, you could just shell out the 85 cents for a can of that gunk, shape it like a duck and reach the same outcome. But, you'd then rob yourself of the right to say you've birthed an official Peep -- and that's pretty much my entire reason for doing this. It's an honor soon to be reflected on my business card. I have made Peeps, and they were really Peeps.

It's all easy stuff -- the only trick is getting everything done very quickly. The unsugared innards of Peeps have a short shelf-life, so if you wait too long, you'll be eating candy with suspiciously hard lumps buried throughout, acting like less harmful but still annoying mines. We've all been there.

Finally, you're ready to use the most delicious weapon in history: the Marshmallow Peeps Magic Extruder Thing. MP-MET, AKA and all. I'd put the personal glory involved with wielding an MP-MET not quite on par with holding a Super Soaker 3500, but certainly all models below the Super Soaker 2000. With this, we shall plunge the marshmallow wad through a tiny crevice, forcing it into cheerful plastic molds with artistic vision and hungry passion. As an added bonus, we'll get to do all that just by slamming our palm on a poor toy duck's face and pushing down as hard as possible. Great for sadists who really don't want anyone knowing about their dirty secret.

During the process of filling the molds, I couldn't stop myself from singing the "Dink Dink" beach parade song from Spaceballs. I only mention this because, swear to God, nobody who buys a Peeps Marshmallow Maker is going to get past this step without doing the same exact thing. It's one of the true phenomenons of our time.

Each batch contains enough to properly fill four molds -- my five was a stretch, and I had to give up only a twentieth of the way into the sixth. Don't expect many Peeps for one round of effort -- you'll have to repeat the process eighty times if you want enough Peeps to actually be full. After filling the molds, you're supposed to wait five minutes before prying the bodies from 'em. I did, but they still weren't ready. Following the instructions, I tacked on a two-minute trip to the chilly refrigerator. Didn't really help. Unprepared to spend anymore time on a holiday weekend with the Peeps Marshmallow Maker, I threw caution to the wind and plucked the marshy shapes before they were good to go. Big mistake, and you'll soon see.

After removing the skinless Peeps, you just gotta swirl them around in plates of sugar. Indians call it "subversive sand art." Moments later, we're ready to show the world our confectionary prowess...

The chick looks like a fish, the stars look like Pop Qwiz popcorn, the egg looks shattered, and the purple bunny looks like a novelty bow tie that probably squirts water at unsuspecting victims. Point is, they're still Peeps. Officially, undeniably Peeps. Succeeding at this is my biggest accomplishment since noticing that some Mentos commercials went into rotation both with the original actors' voices and with voice-over dubs to make them sound more American. And shit, that was like ten years ago.

The strongest selling point of the kit? These homegrown Peeps taste even better than the store-bought variety. They might look a little off, but they've got it where it counts. 8 out of 10.

More Easter fun: Cadbury Creme Eggs!

-- Matt (4/10/04)

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