If you’re trying to expand your vocabulary, moving around the country is a good way to do it. (Not particularly cost-effective, mind you, but rich in life experiences. At least that’s what we tell ourselves while looking at our bank account.) Our friend from Wisconsin refers to water fountains as “bubblers.” Jason’s relatives in New Jersey call colorful ice cream toppings “jimmies,” not “sprinkles.” Folks in Ohio have a special phrase (“Beggar’s Night”) for the evening their kids go trick or treating. No one outside the Midwest seems to understand that an “open house” can refer to both an event for house hunters and a graduation party. And it turns out the Texas A&M chant of “Gig ’em, Aggies!” is not short for “Go get them!” but actually refers to the practice of “gigging:” taking flashlights into swamps, shining them in the eyes of frogs, then stabbing the unlucky amphibians with a spear. (Because, Texas.)
Apparently “buckeye” is one such regional word—and I count myself fortunate to have it in my Hoosier vocabulary. Mention it to most people in the south and you will be met with a puzzled expression, followed by pangs of sympathy for this poor, peanut-butter-deprived soul. If you’ve only heard the word in reference to a football team, allow me to be your etymologist.
These candies, reminiscent of a Reese’s cup, get their name from their resemblance to the seeds of the buckeye tree (which probably got its name from an actual buck eye—trees and deer being most of what you notice while driving through Ohio in the fall).The seeds are poisonous, but the candy version is perfection—creamy morsels of peanut butter and powdered sugar, cloaked in a semisweet chocolate shell. It’s the star of every midwestern cookie exchange and the first sweet snatched from those tins of Christmas candies your neighbors all feel obligated to swap in December. Jason remembers old ladies at the Ohio welcome center passing them out to travelers along I-70 every Thanksgiving—proving southerners aren’t the only ones who know the meaning of “hospitality.”
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Buckeyes | Makes 50 candies
Buckeyes aren’t difficult (no candy thermometers needed!) but they are a bit time consuming. Allow at least 40 minutes for rolling and dipping, plus 1-2 hours for the chocolate to set in the fridge.
- 16 oz. (2 cups) creamy peanut butter
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
- 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
Line two rimmed baking sheets with waxed paper and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the peanut butter, softened butter, vanilla and salt. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until mixture forms a ball and is easy to handle. Form mixture into 50 balls (slightly smaller than ping pong balls) and place on prepared baking sheets. Store in refrigerator while you prepare the chocolate coating, or up to one hour.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and shortening. Microwave in 15-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate is smooth and runny. Remove prepared peanut butter balls from the fridge and dip in the chocolate mixture one by one, leaving some peanut butter exposed at the top, then returning to the waxed paper. (Toothpicks make it easier but I hate the holes they leave on top; I used a fork to maneuver them around the chocolate instead.) Return the baking sheets to the fridge for 1-2 hours to allow chocolate to set. Remove buckeyes from baking sheets and store in airtight container, preferably in the fridge.