Going through a huge box of my mother’s papers — personal, financial and some of her newspaper clips — I came across a column she wrote for the Arizona Republic in 1983 (under the byline Gail Tabor) claiming to be the person who first made a dessert that became popular among Ohio State fans, Buckeye Balls, which are peanut-butter balls dipped in chocolate with just a circle uncovered on the top so they look like buckeyes. A portion of the clipping was torn, and the whole was too long to fit on my flatbed scanner, so I’m typing in the text below. Note that if you try making them, the key in the recipe is “6 or more tablespoons peanut butter.” You start with six, then keep adding peanut butter to taste.
The story about where popular Buckeye balls started
By Gail Tabor
It is time, Ohio State fans, that you hear the truth about your favorite nibbling food, the Buckeye Ball. (A buckeye, for those who need explanation, looks somewhat like a bloated chestnut.)
Had it not been for me, you wouldn’t have the pleasure of gorging on those mouth-watering, chocolate-covered peanut-butter-flavored morsels.
As is so often the case concerning valuable and coveted items, the recipe was claimed by a conniving woman from Oklahoma. She fibbed and said it was hers, after promising me under oath that she would never let that recipe out of her hands.
Not only was she a dishonest purloiner, she instilled in me a deep distrust of everybody from Oklahoma, a fault that stays with me to this day.
It all began in 1964, when I married a rabid Ohio State fan whose idea of fun was sitting in the rain and snow watching football games. Oh, those memories: Finding the seat, wrapping sock-and-boot-clad feet and legs first in plastic, then in a layer of newspapers, and covering everything with a blanket. You didn’t dare move an inch the rest of the game for fear of disturbing the wrappings and letting in the cold air.
Christmas of that year, my mother brought us some candy. I begged her for the recipe, which she gladly shared. (Actually, you can say the whole thing started with her.)
When I was ready to start dipping the small balls of batter, I didn’t get the first one completely covered. I held it up on the toothpick and said to then-husband, “Hey, it looks like a buckeye.”
Thus it was christened. We gave batches away to friends, and they fell in love.
“How did you make them?” they would beg. But I was selfish and refused to part with the information. I wanted to be the only one in the world to have the secret of making candy-lovers happy.
In 1971, ex-husband graduated and we moved from Ohio. Before we left, the wife of a man who studied with my ex, and who was also graduating, pestered me unmercifully for the recipe.
“We’re returning to Oklahoma, and you will still be the only one over here who knows how to make them,” she said. “I promise I’ll never tell anyone else. Please, please, please,” she said, or words to that effect. All I know is, she pledged a solemn oath to keep her mouth shut. I relented.
Dates get fuzzy in retrospect, but it may have been 1973 when a visit was paid to Columbus during football season. Imagine my surprise when I picked up the local newspaper and saw an entire story on Buckeye balls. How in the world, I wondered, did somebody else figure them out?
“Well,” said a friend, “I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you would be furious. But (woman from Oklahoma) sent in the recipe to the Ohio State alumni magazine, under her name.”
Furious is an understatement. I felt deceived, betrayed, put-upon, hornswoggled and just plain enraged. I swore revenge.
That took a back seat. In the confusion during and following divorce and resettlement, the Buckeye ball donnybrook was forgotten until it came time to make them again. Every year, for 17 years, it has been a tradition in my house to make the delicacy on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game. And every year my children, who have heard the story a million times, would help me make the balls and dip them in chocolate, saying all the while, “Mom, why in the world did you trust that woman?”
This year, I was in Columbus on assignment when the big day rolled around. While Ohio State and Michigan were slugging it out, I met a friend for lunch and moaned over another tradition going down the drain. This year, the making of Buckeye balls would be delayed a week.
“Gail,” my friend said, “this whole state has gone crazy over Buckeye balls. I think you ought to find some way to tell the real story about how they got started.”
So now you know. Today, and forevermore, as the scrumptious little bites disappear into eager mouths, bow to the West and give thanks to the woman in Phoenix (certainly not Oklahoma) who made such joy possible.
As one matures, one grows out of childish shortcomings like selfishness, so here is my original Buckeye ball recipe, for all the world to see. (But if you think I’m going to share my secret recipe for West Virginia Christmas pickles, you’re crazy.)
4 pounds powdered sugar
1 pound butter
6 or more tablespoons peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 ounces chocolate chips
1 block canning wax
Combine first four ingredients, adding a bit of milk if necessary. Rolls into small balls. Melt chocolate chips and canning wax in top of double boiler. Make sure chocolate and wax are mixed well so wax doesn’t rise to the top. With toothpick, dip the balls into the chocolate, but do not cover completely. Chill in refrigerator. After chocolate is hardened, store candy in plastic bags in freezer.