NEW YORK – With Easter just around the corner, one group of dedicated Americans is ramping up for a celebration — marshmallow Peeps connoisseurs.
Fans have made the squishy sweets, which turn 50 this year, a cult-like favorite among those who love everything from Peeps' neon colors to the slight crunch of their sugary coating.
But perhaps the candy's most surprising characteristic is that actually eating Peeps seems fairly low on many fans' priority list.
"We get hundreds of letters from people telling us what they like to make out of peeps," said Lauren Easterly, the Peeps specialist at Just Born, which makes the treats.
"People have told us they decorated a light out of Peeps. People have Peeps collections. Someone has a box of them from every year for the last 16 years that he keeps in his living room," said Easterly who insisted that her last name only coincidentally coincides with Peeps' busiest season.
An online search for the sticky candy demonstrates Elvis-like worship, with links to Web pages dedicated to Peep science, Peep jewelry, Peep arts and crafts Peep poetry and Peep recipes, among other things.
"Peeps are so wonderful/in every way/they make me smile every day/no matter what I do Peeps are there/and that is why peeps, they make me care," wrote one devotee on marshmallowpeeps.org.
Others on the site share their culinary inventions such as Peep pie with graham cracker crust and chocolate chips, roasted Peeps, preferably heated over an open fire, and Peep tacos made with soft corn tortillas.
On another Peep site, dedicated to art by David Ottogalli, fans post the secret of their Peep worship.
"Besides munching many of the little critters, we love to play with them, and am sad to admit, torture them," wrote on user who only gave the name "Jane." "For the amusement of kids and adults, we nuke them to watch them grow huge and then deflate. The hardened corpses make great decorations. As far as eating, batches left open until stale are cherished."
With all the inviting confections that stock store shelves, especially during the spring, what is it about the gooey treats that inspire such devotion?
"Everything. What's not to like," said Rachel Karlin, 32, a New York City artist who has used the wrappers in her collages. "I like their color. I like that they are little chicks that have just been born. I'm a fan of the electric colors. I'm really partial to the pink. I like their consistency and taste as well. They are good frozen and they are especially good stale."
According to Just Born's research, 17 percent of fans prefer Peeps stale, but the most popular way to eat them is fresh from the package.
"A lot of people like to tell me how they eat their Peeps," said Easterly. "They eat the head first or the tail first."
One jewelry maker, who created bunny-shaped Peep and enamel rings, pins and necklaces, found fervent fans would buy anything Peep-related.
"There's such an underground culture of Peep people. Once people saw the Peep, they'd go bananas," said the designer, Jennifer Kellogg, whose pieces were a smash hit even though they sold for a whopping $150 each.
"They tell you how they've tiled their bathroom floor with Peeps. There are fanatics," she said.
Kellogg, who has stopped working with the cute candies, but still makes her jewelry in the shape of the bunnies, said she's always been a Peep "appreciator," but was never a true fanatic.
"I don't really eat them because they kind of make me sick," she admitted. "When I was working with them, I would have some as snacks, but I don't eat boxes at a time like some people."