Candy, Baskets and Bunnies: Best Easter Innovations Ever
What's the only major holiday in America without a specific date? What's the only holiday that can claim to get more people to church AND more people eating candy than any other? What's the only holiday that can boast the only egg-laying mammal besides the duckbill platypus?
Easter, of course! With the holiday right around the corner, we wanted to look at some of the quintessential Easter products and ideas that have helped to define this most unusual of holidays and fill our bellies with sugary goodness. Here are the top Easter innovations of all time:
5. Cadbury Creme Eggs.
While not quite a household product here in the states, the Cadbury Creme Egg is an Easter candy juggernaut in the UK. It's only on sale from January through Easter, but during that time it holds a dominating 70% of the candy bar market, with a current brand value of $88.6 million (not bad for 3.5 months). Cadbury Schweppes churns out 300 million Creme Eggs every year, or 5 for every person in the UK. If you've never eaten one, it's something you have to try it at least once, and it's likely to be a defining experience. Either you love them or hate them, with their hard chocolate shells and truly egg-like white and yellow fondant (sugar paste) centers. It's not that chocolate and sugar syrup are bad things, but it's a little like if someone made chocolate sushi, made of sugar but with the texture of sushi. It's a little unnerving, but apparently the British love 'em. I'd love to say the process of making them is a trade secret, but the Cadbury's website says it's as simple as filling two chocolate halves with the sugary yolk and sticking them together before the chocolate fully cools.
Representing all that is gooey and sticky about Easter, Peeps are truly an old school immigrant success story. Russian Sam Born came to the US in 1910, where he learned the art of making chocolate and invented a machine to place sticks in lollipops. When he opened his own chocolate shop in New York City, he would let the customers know when the candy was freshly made made by putting a "Just Born" sign in the window (sorta like Krispy Kreme). With his sons on board, the Just Born company turned into a candy manufacturing powerhouse, and in 1953 discovered a company named Rodda that made marshmallow animals by squeezing the marshmallow by hand out of a pastry tube. Just Born bought the idea, developed machines to make them at a commercial scale, and they've never looked back. And while PEEPS now show up for most major holidays, the goo-drop chicks and limbless bunnies are synonymous with Easter candy.
3. The Holiday Itself.
Even the geniuses at Hallmark couldn't have invented this one. Start by identifying the first Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox. That's your holiday. Back up 41 days, go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras for some serious partying. The next day, go to church and get ashes on your forehead. Then follows 40 days where you give up something you really like. Then you go back to church to celebrate the death and resurrection of God's son. Then you go home, pick up a basket full of grass and look around the house for candy left and eggs laid by a rabbit. Got it?
Like Christmas, modern Easter is a mish-mash of multi-national Christian and pagan traditions. But at least with Christmas the Christians tried to co-opt some of the symbolism. I can see why maybe they didn't even try with Easter. Rabbits and birds were ancient fertility symbols, most prodigious in the spring, so it's not surprising that rabbits and eggs entered springtime folklore. How the rabbit got or laid the eggs is up to you to guess. German immigrants brought the "Osterhase" to America in the 18th century, claiming that this magical hare would leave colored eggs for good children in nests made in their caps and bonnets. The idea of the Easter basket came from the Catholic tradition of the Easter feast following Lent, when the meal would be brought to the table in a basket. Put all these traditions in your Cuisinart, hit blend, and you've got modern Easter.
2. Jelly Beans.
Presumably, the jelly bean became the predominant Easter candy because it looks like eggs. But who would have thought that the simplest of Easter candies takes the longest to produce. Jelly Belly , the most prominent name in the jelly bean business, claims a single bean can take 7 to 21 days to create. It starts with a hot gooey sugar gel center (flavored in gourmet beans) that is poured into thousands of tiny molds. The jelly centers are cooled overnight, and once firm are coated with a light sugar coating and cooled for another 24 to 48 hours. Then it's into the engrossing pan, where they are slowly coated en masse with layers of flavored syrup and sugar. Next into the polisher, where 400 pounds of beans and a little confectioners glaze give the beans their candy sheen. Then they sit for another 2-4 days to "season". Then it's off to packaging and into our mouths. Whew!
1. Hershey's Milk Chocolate.
Sure, a Hershey's bar seems almost boring today, but Hershey's milk chocolate is one of those watershed products in the development of a technology and industry, and you could argue that almost any mass-marketed candy, and especially those with chocolate, owe their existent to Milton Hershey, a true innovator. In the late 1800s, Hershey already had a successful sweet chocolate business, but was convinced that the future lay in milk chocolate. He built his own milk processing plant and spent 3 years working tirelessly to develop a chocolate, milk and sugar mix that tasted great and could be easily mass-produced. Hershey was also a savvy businessman, setting up his factory right in the middle of Pennsylvania dairy country for his milk supply, but close enough to Philadelphia and New York that he could buy imported cocoa beans and sugar and sell his product easily. Over 100 years and dozens of seminal candy name brands later, Hershey's is still at the top of the candy heap, with revenue close to half a billion dollars.
Hungry yet? Or are you in a sugar coma? Enjoy that Easter candy this year, and spend a minute remembering the vision, innovation and hard work that makes Easter so sweet!