Photos & text by Kristin Mullen, Early Childhood Program Developer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
I have a confession. One of my favorite homemade sweet treats of all time are buckeye balls. But that’s not my confession. The truth of the matter is, until I started working at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, I assumed the treats were named for their vague resemblance to a bulging eyeball. I had absolutely no clue they are actually named after the nut of the buckeye tree! Turns out, my bulging eye theory wasn’t too far off, though…
On my way from Parking Lot A to the Children’s Garden, I walk right past the appropriately named Sweet Buckeye tree (Aesculus flava) in the Grace Arents Garden. As the tree’s spring flowers fade, the lumpy hulls that hold the nuts start developing. I kept my eye on them until one day in September they finally started splitting open and dropping from the tree. Inside the gnarly unglamorous hull is the most perfectly smooth nut. You can’t help but roll it around in your hand! And wouldn’t you know the nut, it is said to be named a buckeye because the coloration (dark shiny chestnut brown with a lighter center) looks similar to the eye of a buck (male) deer.
One other thing I’ve learned about the buckeye nut since working at Lewis Ginter is that they are considered to be good luck! Some say carrying one in your pocket will bring you more pocket change. Others say keeping them close at hand will relieve pain of arthritis and rheumatism. I personally don’t carry one around in my pocket because I’m sure it would end up in the washing machine, so I have to hold out hope that eating the chocolate and peanut butter confectionary buckeye is going to bring me some good luck!
Here is my favorite recipe for Buckeye Balls,which is an easy no-bake project. This recipe was passed along to me by a family friend and then I adapted it. Kids love helping to roll the peanut butter balls!
• 1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 6 ounces chocolate chips (I prefer dark chocolate, but any will do)
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or shortening)
1. In a medium bowl, combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar with a mixer. Roll into balls using a heaping tablespoon of dough for each ball. Place on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm.
2. Place coconut oil and chocolate chips in a small glass bowl. Microwave for 1 minute and stir. If needed, microwave at additional one minute intervals (stir between each) until chocolate is smooth and without lumps.
3. Remove balls from refrigerator. Insert a wooden toothpick into a ball, and dip into melted chocolate. Make sure to leave some of the peanut butter showing! Return to wax paper, chocolate side down, and remove toothpick. Smooth over toothpick hole, if desired. Repeat with remaining balls.
4. Refrigerate until chocolate is set. Eat and enjoy!
Update 9/20/12: Buckeye tree nuts are not edible. We placed them on the plate with the candy so you could compare their similar appearance.