April 2, 2010
A colleague recently posed a thought-provoking question: why are so many chocolate Easter bunnies hollow? Isn’t it cruel to disappoint all those little kids, who will bite into what looks like a massive chunk of chocolate and be confronted with emptiness?
The experience inspires a host of sermons and metaphors about how life is full of disappointments, why you shouldn’t judge by appearances, and so on. Chocolate bunnies can be, as this New York Times article puts it, “the child’s first taste of deception.”
Are candy makers conspiring to teach us a lesson?
Of course not. The answer is simple, according to one chocolate maker: hollow bunnies are easier to eat.
“If you had a larger-size bunny and it was solid chocolate, it would be like a brick; you’d be breaking teeth,” says Mark Schlott, vice-president of operations at R.M. Palmer in Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the first and largest manufacturers of hollow chocolate bunnies.
And, of course, hollow is usually cheaper to make, though Schlott phrases it more delicately: “Hollow has a greater perceived value. It creates a much greater chocolate footprint than solid.”
The company now makes about 25 million hollow chocolate bunnies each year, as well as smaller solid bunnies, cream eggs and other seasonally-themed candies. Schlott says sales increased during the recession.
“Instead of going on a spring vacation, I think more people stayed at home; they wanted that traditional Easter basket on Easter morning,” he guesses. “People are really going back to their roots.”
The tradition of chocolate Easter bunnies dates back to 19th-century America, which borrowed it—and the Easter Bunny in general—from Germany. Sales started to take off around 1890, after a Pennsylvania man named Robert L. Strohecker featured a 5-foot-tall chocolate rabbit in his drugstore as an Easter promotion. (Of course, that’s got nothing on the record-setting chocolate rabbit sculptors just completed in a South African shopping mall.)
By the turn of the 20th century, newspapers noticed “the growing popularity in the States of the chocolate rabbit” among Easter confections, and by 1925, a catalog from the R.E. Rodda Candy Co. featured guitar-playing bunnies, suggesting that perhaps ordinary chocolate bunnies were old hat by then.
Hollow molds had entered the picture by 1939, when a newspaper advertisement mentions “hollow chocolate rabbits” sold for five cents each. The bunny business hit a snag in late 1942, when the War Production Board halted the manufacture of all such chocolate novelties, reasoning that cocoa rations should be saved for “staple civilian and military purposes, such as breakfast cocoa and candy bars.” (Ah, yes, the staples of life.)
After World War II, chocolate Easter bunnies returned to the States—as did a soldier named Richard Palmer, in search of an “interesting and novel” business, as Schlott tells it. Palmer founded his chocolate company in 1948, and was soon making a hollow Easter bunny named “Baby Binks” which, oddly enough, was inspired by a dog toy.
“Apparently, his dog at the time had a little bunny rabbit toy, and he looked at the shape and thought, ‘You know, that has kind of a whimsical personality; I could make a chocolate mold like that,’” Schlott says. “So he did, and it’s still in our line today.”
So if you find a hollow chocolate bunny in your basket this Easter, try not to feel disappointed (or scream in horror, if you’re a sci-fi fan). If you really want something in the center, well…you could try the candy version of turducken. (Okay, now you can scream in horror.)
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