The Easter bunny and his basket
Jelly beans were invented in 1861 by William Schrafft, a Boston confectioner who used an ancient candy-making technique to wrap a non-stick coating around a chewy center. As the candies did not melt in hot weather, Schrafft marketed them as gifts for soldiers fighting in the Civil War. It’s not clear why they are shaped like beans – one theory links them to baked beans, a staple in Boston. Although they were a hit from the start, jelly beans were a popular Christmas treat that didn’t make the jump to Easter until the 1930s. Black jelly beans, which are either loved or hated, are one of the few types that are sold in uniquely flavored bags.
The King of the Easter Basket, Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, was introduced in 1967. Although this is a direct spinoff of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – which was launched on the market in 1928 – the egg’s higher peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio made it different enough from the original that die-hard fans were known to hoard the Easter variety. For those who prefer to stay seasonal but with more chocolate in every bite, the company also produces small peanut butter eggs covered with foil, which are sold in bags.
The ubiquitous Peep, which appeared in 1925, is said to be the most popular chocolate-free Easter candy. Shaped by hand using a pastry tube filled with a mixture of marshmallow sap, sugar and beaten egg whites, the first chilies were either yellow or white and drying took about 27 hours to produce. Until 1955, when the production process was automated, they were not made until Easter. Today, however, Peeps have become a cultural phenomenon that has inspired Peeps food contests (the 2017 record is 255 Peeps in five minutes), artwork, games, and even engineering challenges. STEM for students.
For parents, hiding the Easter basket is almost as fun as watching the kids look for them. Small children are delighted to discover traces of rabbits (stenciled from flour or cornstarch) leading to their baskets; older kids can follow coiled pieces of string around the house or even a trail of clever written clues that lead from place to place.
The baskets themselves take on a variety of fun shapes with everything from terra cotta pots and metal buckets to recycled berry containers and even baseball caps serving as receptacles. Environmentally conscious parents can purchase non-plastic or even edible grass to form the traditional nest. And while tradition beckons to fill Easter baskets with candy, moms and dads looking to help their kids cut spending will have just as many smiles on Easter morning with a collection of toys, books and, of course, some pretty eggs.