Buckeyes, the Candy, and Fruitcake Follow-up

Jim Robert's beautiful peanut butter and chocolate buckeyes.

Jim Robert’s beautiful peanut butter and chocolate buckeyes.

Jim Roberts, a neighbor of ours here on the island, makes that wonderful sweetened peanut butter and chocolate confection known as buckeyes. In fact, he has been making them for years, and when he was a teacher at York (Maine) High School, he made hundreds of them at Christmas for his students and fellow staff. So when he showed up at our house with a Christmas-y little tin of them, we greeted them with joy and I thought, this is the perfect time to get a good recipe for them. So I asked, and Jim generously shared. “This recipe,” Jim, formerly employed in the steel industry, said, “was given to me 43 years ago by the wife of a brick salesman (he was my supplier when I was running the open hearth furnaces for Armco Steel in Ohio).”

Buckeye candies look just like the variety of horse chestnuts, aesculus glabra, found all over the Midwest, particularly famous in Ohio, where residents and the Ohio State University football team (11-1, second in the East this season so far) are nicknamed buckeyes.

If you like peanut butter cups, you’ll like buckeyes. Since they are made with peanut butter, you can make them pretty easily. The only tedious part is allowing plenty of time between steps to let them harden up in the fridge, and dipping them in melted chocolate.

Two things to pay attention to: one is to make sure you acquire peanut butter that has only peanuts (and maybe salt) in it. If you haven’t noticed before, you may be amazed to read a peanut butter jar ingredient list and find all kinds of stuff that makes it easy to spread, or a little sweeter. You’ll want to find a smooth peanut butter if you want a smooth looking buckeye. Toby thinks he’d like to try making them with super chunky and I think I’ll let him, but I’ll be darned if I want to cope with gnarly bits sticking out here and there.

The other is the old matter of adding paraffin to dipping chocolate. We had this conversation back when we did Needhams. I concluded that I wanted none of the paraffin even though I know the tiny bit that I’d consume wouldn’t kill me. If you obtain a richer sort of chocolate, it will melt and behave very well, firm up and be glossy. Incidentally, I had a grocery-store-aisle conversation with a lady looking for paraffin in the baking section where you won’t find it. This is one of those items you need to get from the hardware store, and probably obtain during canning season when old-timers might still be melting paraffin to seal the top of jelly.

For the kneading and hand-rolling steps, Jim uses latex gloves to keep his hands clean.

Jim’s buckeyes are generously-sized. Stuff one of Jim’s in a noisy kid’s pie-hole, and you’ll have peace and quiet for five minutes. I’m inclined for slightly smaller, personally, but suit yourself. And if you don’t like the little hole left in the top by the toothpick used for dipping, just smooth it over with your finger. The recipe can easily be halved because maybe you won’t want 150 little nuggets of temptation around. Or make the whole batch and take care of your whole Christmas gift list.

P.S. The Fruitcake Haters Fruitcake struck a chord with many of you who got in touch. Jean Warren asked, “Could I halve the recipe and bake it in a single pan?” I don’t think so—for a single loaf pan, I’d suggest a quarter of the recipe and bake it for the same amount of time, two and a half to three hours, at the same temperature, 250 degrees. Jean said, “This looks like a recipe my mom had for years and lost. I’d like to surprise her at Christmas this year…her 94th!” What a lovely idea that is.

Connie Tracy wrote “I have always hated fruitcake, but I think that I could love this.” Yes! Then she asked, “What can you use if you don’t want to use alcohol on the top of the fruitcake? Is there any alternative?” I suggested orange juice or grape juice concentrate, but I really believe that since the alcohol is partly there for preserving the cake, you would just skip it altogether and just keep the cake in the fridge.

Kendra Newcombe from Searsport wrote, “I am sending you my fruitcake recipe that does not have the ugly fruit in it either. This fruitcake has changed the mind of many fruitcake haters!!” So now I have another recipe, and when this year’s batch made from Cynthia’s recipe is gone, I’ll have another to try and share with you all.

Serves: Makes 150-160 balls.
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • 2 pounds smooth peanut butter
  • 3 pounds confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 pounds of chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons grated paraffin (optional)
  1. Combine the butter, peanut butter, and sugar, and knead into a dough
  2. Hand-roll into small balls and place on wax paper or parchment paper covered baking pans or cookie sheets.
  3. Put them into the freezer to harden for the next step.
  4. In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips, and when melted add the optional grated paraffin
  5. Remove peanut butter balls from the freezer and using a toothpick stuck into the top of the balls, half-submerge each ball into the melted chocolate.
  6. Set the coated balls back on the pans/sheets and put back in the freezer to set up.
  7. Keep cool until shared.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.