My father-in-law always carried a buckeye in his pocket. There came a time when my husband and kids did the same. It’s an Ozark custom, or so I was told when I moved from the East Coast to the hill country of south Missouri. The glossy brown nuts have been carried since Colonial times, supposedly to attract good fortune.
I hadn’t thought about buckeyes for years until my Rolla neighbor, Paul Long, posted a Facebook photo of the shiny nuts spread out on the tailgate of his truck. The caption read: “The Buckeyes are Blooming.” When I inquired, he agreed to send me more photos of his fall bounty.
Buckeyes: “A Concealed Weapon”
Buckeyes are spiny-shelled nuts that grow on trees and are related to the horse chestnut. The foliage and fruit contain tannic acid that’s poisonous to cattle and humans. It’s said that just half the nut is lethal and only squirrels know which half. That might explain why they sometimes eat only a portion of the buckeye.
Still the nut has been assigned powers, that put it on a par with a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover. We have the Germans and Dutch to thank for that. They believed that carrying a horse chestnut would cure headaches, rheumatism, arthritis, and bring winning hands in card games. When spread around the house, they were thought to keep spiders away, because the insects dislike the oil. But when horse chestnuts were scarce, our fore-bearers carried the buckeye.
I recall that Mel kept a basket of buckeyes in the Governor’s Office for visitors. I have a very old one in my collection of political items. A small McKinley for President campaign button, was impressed in the buckeye when it was still soft and stayed in place as the nut hardened.
On a Weekend Buckeye Hunt
I wasn’t at the farm this weekend, but Paul Long and his wife, Martha, agreed to “hunt and shoot” some buckeyes for this blog post. These photos were “shot” on his family’s farm at Lake Spring, a place where he “hunted” buckeyes as a kid to give to friends and neighbors for good luck. The family uses them for decorations now because, as Paul said, they have the “feel of October and the changing season.”
Two Bonus Discoveries in the Woods
Not only did the Longs find enough buckeyes to bring good luck to themselves and their neighbors, they discovered an arrowhead in the creek bed. They also came upon a tree ripe with paw-paws. Martha promised to make some paw-paw bread, which is much like banana bread. Hopefully, they’ll freeze a slice for me to try when I’m at the farm next.
Carry or Take a Chance?
I wish I could tell you I know of some direct correlation between carrying a buckeye and the relief of ill fortune or achiness. Some comfort might comes from stroking the smooth, familiar charm when facing difficult decisions or enduring pain. Here’s how I feel. It’s like the cow that kicked Nellie in the belly in the barn: didn’t do her any good; didn’t do her any harm.
But don’t let me discourage you from carrying. I just don’t have room for anything more in my pockets. They’re already stuffed with such things as Kleenex, cough drops, reading glasses and meter coins. But if you feel you need some buckeyes for luck, decorations, or medical purposes, (and don’t know Paul Long) you can buy them on Amazon, 25 for $7.99, plus shipping.
Making Candy Buckeyes
As I mentioned earlier, buckeyes are not edible. But you can make candy buckeye-look-a-likes by combining peanut butter with regular butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Roll into balls, insert a tooth pick and chill for a half hour. Dip the peanut butter balls into dark, melted chocolate, leaving a small area showing at the top, so they look like real buckeyes. Perfect for a fall party or Halloween. The following recipe hails from Ohio, the Buckeye State, where they take their buckeyes very seriously.
Buckeyes (Peanut Butter and Chocolate Candies)
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. vegetable shortening
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Beat the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt with an electric mixer in a medium bowl until well combined. Scoop 2-teaspoonful mounds, and roll into balls. Arrange on prepared baking sheet and refrigerate (or freeze) until firm, about 20 minutes.
Microwave chocolate and shortening in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until the mixture is completely melted and smooth, about 2 minutes.
Stick toothpick into the top of each peanut butter ball. Dip ball into melted chocolate, leaving a circle of peanut butter showing on top. Let excess chocolate drip off, then return buckeye to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining peanut butter balls and chocolate.
Chill buckeyes until firm, about 30 minutes. Smooth out the hole left by the toothpick. Serve at room temperature or well chilled. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to a week. (Adapted from Food Network Kitchen)