New Orleanians, it seems, will find just about any reason to enjoy a cocktail. It’s one of the things I appreciate most about the Crescent City.
So I was strolling down Royal Street recently – or it might have been Chartres Street – sipping a Bloody Mary in a plastic cup and heading to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival to take my place on a panel discussion about humor writing when I spotted an advertisement for an Easter brunch. Cocktails, cocktails, cocktails! No big deal, I thought. Then I noticed the featured cocktails were “Peeptinis.”
The pink drink on the advertisement looked ghastly – whipped cream vodka, Grenadine, and Godiva white chocolate liquor rimmed in pink sugar and adorned with a pink chick Peep. A little glass of glucose. I was slightly nauseated, mildly appalled; yet highly intrigued by this unholy union of alcohol and spongy marshmallow. But it got me wondering: What kind of peep cocktail could I create?
It shouldn’t be too difficult to conceptualize, I thought. Peeps, after all, are comprised of nothing more than granulated sugar, liquid sugar, gelatin, vanilla, and color. Except for the eyes, which are made of carnauba wax imported from Brazil. Carnauba is non-toxic and edible. It’s found in many candies, but also in dental floss, shoe polishes, and car waxes.
Peeps have been around for more than sixty years. Back in the early 1950s the chicks and bunnies were squeezed out by hand one by one from a pastry tube. It took approximately twenty-seven hours from start to finish to create each one, mainly because it took the marshmallow a long time to cool before it could be packaged.
Today, Peeps are produced in rows by a machine called “The Depositor” and the whole process takes just about six minutes. The family-owned Just Born Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, produces more than 4 million Peeps each day! Classic yellow is the most popular color for chicks and bunnies, followed by pink, lavender, blue, and white. And they don’t stop at chicks and bunnies. Just Born also produces Easter eggs, Christmas trees, jack-o-lanterns, and Valentines hearts.
As I pondered which cocktail I would make with the Peep, I couldn’t help but feel a classic Easter tradition deserved a classic cocktail. I opted to mix a simple “Peep Julep” and I selected an orange bunny Peep with a hint of crème de la orange flavor as the basis for the libation. I felt it would pair well with bourbon in terms of color and taste.
To create a classic Julep one should dissolve half an ounce of superfine sugar in an ounce of hot water. I used the Peep because, after all, it is made of superfine sugar. Next add eight mint leaves plus one mint sprig and press lightly with a spoon in order to release the oil from the mint leaves and the sugar from the Peep. Press too hard and the Peep will disintegrate and, trust me, that isn’t a good look. Add three ounces of good Kentucky bourbon, fill the glass (or preferably a silver cup) with cracked ice, and plant the mint spring in the ice. I fished out the orange bunny Peep, cut a slit in it, and used it to garnish my glass.
Bury your nose in the mint. Sip slowly. Not too bad, if I say so myself.
In retrospect, though, I recommend tossing the wet Peep and using a fresh one, unless, that is, you like the feel of something sticky pressing against your face while you imbibe.
The great Louisiana writer Walker Percy once said bourbon did for him what cake did for Proust. Wonder what he’d say about bourbon and Peeps? I bet I know.