"Marshmallows are a very hard product to make," Croyle said. "It's very sticky, and it's very temperamental."

Call them the anti-Peeps.

Thousands of marshmallows masquerading as chicks, bunnies and eggs are leaving Peter Croyle’s Medford factory for stores nationwide. Unlike the rubbery, gritty, kitschy Peep, these airy treats are no mere Easter-basket gimmicks.

“It’s like an old-fashioned candy,” Croyle said. “A lot of folks buy ’em because it reminds them of their childhood.”

Marshmallows are the mainstay of Pete’s Gourmet Confections, the business Croyle launched five years ago in the Los Angeles area and moved to Medford last year. The Rogue Valley’s climate — not too hot nor too humid — is nearly ideal for marshmallow-making, Croyle said.

"Marshmallows are a very hard product to make," Croyle said. "It's very sticky, and it's very temperamental."

Small, by-hand batches containing all-natural ingredients and no preservatives are the hallmark of Pete's Gourmet. Croyle's 3,000-square-foot space off Bateman Drive turns out marshmallows every weekday, about 12,000 pounds per month. The business also manufactures wholesale ingredients for other candy companies.

"There are very few marshmallow makers in the nation," Croyle said.

His, in fact, is one of the country's largest marshmallow producers although it employs only nine year-round workers, ramping up to 25 before Christmas, Croyle said.

"Our product is a lot about what tastes good, how well it'll melt," Croyle said. "You don't get that chemical flavor."

The 38-year-old learned to make marshmallows as a child in his grandmother's kitchen. Years later, Croyle toted the treats to Los Angeles movie and television sets, where he supervised construction. Co-workers liked the marshmallows so much they soon inundated Croyle with orders. He made marshmallows and cocoa mixes part time for two years before trading his builder's tools for cookware in 2002.

Pete's Gourmet gained national attention two years later when the company was featured on Food Network's "Food Finds." Croyle hit up the show's producer at a Los Angeles book launch that also promoted Pete's Gourmet.

"I just stalked him," Croyle said. "I was just like shoving marshmallows in his mouth."

The show has re-aired twice since its 2004 debut, each time generating about 100,000 hits on Croyle's Web site, www.petesgourmet.com.

Yet the company — run with the help of Croyle's wife, Jennifer — remains relatively unknown in the Rogue Valley. Most products are bound for gourmet grocery chains nationwide. Locally, Gary West Meats in Jacksonville, Allyson's Kitchen in Ashland and Rogue Creamery in Central Point sell Croyle's confections, typically for $6 to $30.

Despite a small local market, Medford seemed a natural fit for Pete's Gourmet, Croyle said. The Coos Bay native networked with Lillie Belle Farms and Dagoba Organic Chocolate before moving to the area, concluding that ingredients would be easier to come by if Pete's Gourmet was surrounded by similar enterprises.

Distinctive products ensure Pete's Gourmet stands out, Croyle said. In addition to four flavored marshmallows — vanilla, strawberry, espresso and lemon — Croyle's company makes mints, divinity, rocky road, pecan rolls, marshmallow cremes and numerous chocolate-dipped confections like caramels and graham crackers. For Passover, Pete's Gourmet created matzos smothered in marshmallow, chocolate and caramel.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Marshmallow Animals

Special equipment:

Rimmed baking sheet

Stand mixer with whisk attachment

Candy thermometer

Wooden spoon

Offset spatula

Cookie cutters

For the marshmallow:

Three (4-ounce) containers colored, coarse decorating sugar (all the same color)

21/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

11/2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

Food coloring (gel food colorings are best, but any can be used)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cooking spray

Decorating gel

Spread one container of the decorating sugar evenly over the rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the gelatin and 1/2 cup of water. Let stand 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water. Stir well, then add food coloring until desired color is reached. This also can be adjusted later.

Cook, stirring constantly, over low to medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring often. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan.

Reduce heat to medium and boil at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, until the thermometer registers 244 F, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent mixture from boiling over. If necessary, reduce heat to medium-low.

With the stand mixer (with whisk attachment) on low to medium-low, slowly pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture. Increase mixer to high and beat 15 minutes. Mixture should be thick, white and nearly tripled in volume.

Add the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon water, then beat until combined. If marshmallow is not the desired color, add additional food coloring and mix until just incorporated.

Spray the wooden spoon with cooking spray, then spoon the mixture onto the prepared pan. Spray the offset spatula with cooking spray, then use it to spread the marshmallow evenly over the pan in a 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick layer.

Sprinkle the second container of decorating sugar over the marshmallow and use your hands to spread it, coating the marshmallow evenly. Let stand, uncovered, overnight.

Once the marshmallow has set, use cookie cutters to cut animals from it. Set them aside, making sure the edges don't touch. Once all the animals have been cut, discard the scraps of marshmallow, but save the excess sugar in the pan.

Gather the excess sugar in a pile and gently roll the edges of the marshmallow animals in it to coat. They now can be decorated as desired using the decorating gel.

Makes 16 large animals (yield varies by cookie cutter size).

Marshmallow recipe adapted from the September 2005 issue of Country Home magazine.