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Posts Tagged ‘Buckeye Balls’

Actress Jayne Mansfield, right, feels the belly of pregnant reporter Gail Tabor in 1965 in Columbus, Ohio.

Actress Jayne Mansfield, right, feels the belly of pregnant reporter Gail Tabor in 1965 in Columbus, Ohio.


My dead mother is more successful on the Internet than I am. It happened Thursday.

She had a little help.

But that doesn’t lessen my bemusement. It only seems to show how capricious the online audience is and how difficult it can be for a writer to be heard in the digital cacophony of the Internet.

I should explain.

I’m a second-generation journalist. My mother, Gail Tabor, was a reporter for the Citizen-Journal in Columbus, Ohio, when she met my father, Steve Lucas, who was pursuing a PhD in business at Ohio State.

She kept reporting right up through her pregnancy with me. She left reporting when she had me, but 12 or 15 years later, after her divorce and a move to Phoenix, Arizona, she got a job at the Arizona Republic. She worked as a features reporter, fashion editor, gossip columnist and news reporter, in roughly that order, until being forced into early retirement in the mid-1990s.

At the time she left the newspaper, the Internet was barely a thing most people had even heard of, and like most people she didn’t own a computer.

A few years after she retired, I took a job in Richmond, Virginia, that among other things called for me to be a daily advocate to the company’s newspaper editors for adopting various “new media” practices – video, blogs, social media, and on and on. As part of that work, I started a blog nearly 10 years ago devoted to those things.

The original blog was behind a company firewall and couldn’t be viewed by the larger world of the Internet, but in 2011 I migrated it here to WordPress.

Despite my clearly brilliant insights, however, the blog has never gained much of an audience – except for one post in 2012 that called for media companies (including but not limited to newspapers) to recognize that the people who produce their “content” are their most valuable commodity and need to be paid like it. That post drew a favorable comment on Steve Buttry’s blog, which got it noticed and linked to by All Things D, and traffic to my blog spiked to an all-time high. Nothing else I wrote ever came close to achieving that kind of audience. (Despite that post’s popularity, no one ever adopted my recommendation. Journalists, and content-providers in general, remain paid like dirt.)

Earlier in 2012, my mother died. Among her things were a good many of her newspaper stories and columns. One was a column she wrote in 1983 about a candy treat called Buckeye balls, which are rolled peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, but not totally covered in chocolate so they look like Ohio buckeye nuts. Making Buckeye balls was a fall tradition for my family, usually done on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I loved that column and typed it, in its entirety, into a post on my blog.

Over time, that post became the second-best-read item on my blog. Pretty much every day, at least a couple of people searched the Internet for “buckeye balls,” “buckeye candies” or some variation and followed a link to that post.

And then on Thursday a slideshow online called United States of Food: Official State Foods mentioned “buckeye candies” in its Ohio entry and linked to my mother’s column on my blog.

The traffic blew away my previous one-day record. So now my mother, who never blogged a day in her life, has both the best-read post on my blog and the biggest single-day audience. If it were anyone but Mom, I’d be upset.

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Photo from Dec. 28, 1983, Arizona Republic
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.)

Buckeye Balls

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.

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