Sunday, April 08, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Ohio I - I've Got My Buckeye on You

Ohio, as Marcia Adams puts it, it the "gateway to the Midwest" [1991:177].  The Buckeye State is a good example of so much that the Midwest has to offer foodwise, specifically in terms of its ethnic diversity, its fattening foods, and so much more.  After listening to my friend Eric, Columbus born and bred, I knew he could help me out with a few of the following posts.  Not only did he give me some ideas, but he also gave me a recipe for a candy that's so deliciously unhealthy it should be illegal.

Official Name: State of Ohio
State Nicknames: The Buckeye State, The Mother of Presidents
Admission to the US: March 1, 1803 (#17)
Capital: Columbus (largest)
Other Important Cities: Cleveland (2nd largest), Cincinnati (3rd largest), Toledo (4th largest), Akron (5th largest)
Region: Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Maple SyrupWild Rice, Chestnut, Corn Bread & BBQ
Bordered by: Lake Erie (north); Michigan (northwest); Indiana (west); Ohio River (south); Kentucky (southwest); West Virginia (southeast); Pennsylvania (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: white-tailed deer (mammal), tomato (fruit), pawpaw (native fruit), tomato juice (beverage)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: typical Midwestern foods; city chicken (no longer common); ethnic European foods, particularly German (bratwurst, German potato salad, sauerkraut) & Amish foods, Polish, Italian and Irish; buckeye candies; Shaker lemon pie; Cincinnati chili, sauerkraut balls and (again) bratwurst

In the Heartland cookbook that I have come back to again and again every time I examine the Midwest, Marcia Adams discusses the importance of Ohio in the Midwestern culinary landscape:
The political, economic, and social patterns as well as the influence of ethnic food styles on Midwestern country foods appeared first in Ohio.  It was a bellwether region": what happened in this state was repeated in the rest of the Midwest as the other states were settled. [Adams 1991:177]
As with other parts of the Midwest, Native American influences commingled with frontier foods early on, and eventually whites from the South and New England mixed with European immigrants - specifically Germans (including Amish), Hungarians, Italians and Poles to give us the uniquely Midwestern cuisine that we find just on the other side of Pennsylvania (for that matter, a lot of western Pennsylvanian food is similar to what you'll find in Ohio - it's a culturally Midwestern part of the Northeast.  But we'll get to that in about a month...)

While Ohio does not have any specific official dishes, it has a few that you would figure would be: the bratwurst, which many associate with Wisconsin, is easily found here, and probably got here first.  Another Ohio friend (also from Columbus) from grad school told me how she missed the brats back home, though in our part of Southern California they weren't terribly difficult to find.  There is also the famous buckeye candy.  It is chocolate on the outside and sugary peanut butter on the inside, but this is no simple peanut butter cup in the shape of a ball.  This is sinful and rich and will give you a few extra pounds just by looking at it.  The name comes from the buckeye seed, which is poisonous to humans.  The candy is made to look like it.  And while the candy isn't poisonous, you will get sick if you eat too many of them.

I had eaten a buckeye candy once, at a Cracker Barrel somewhere along Interstate 70 with my father and sister on the way from California to Maryland several years ago.  They aren't that easy to find in Maryland, but they are easy enough to make.

When it was time to start planning the Ohio section of this blog series, I asked my friend Eric for some recipes (his suggestions will pop up here and there over the next few weeks).  He insisted on buckeyes, and asked if he could make them with me.  He volunteered his (somewhat bigger, nicer and better-stocked) kitchen.  He wanted to make some for his coworkers and (I assume) his husband Alan.  And well, I couldn't say no, could I?

The Recipe: Buckeye Candy

Eric provided the recipe for this post, which he got off of one of those touristy rest stop post cards with state recipes on them.  I will post a photo of the post card and a closeup of the recipe below:

For the buckeyes, you will need the following, as you can see above (we made the whole recipe):

* peanut butter (the creamy kind - and don't bother with the organic stuff.  This isn't health food, people.  Didn't realize how pricey peanut butter can get these days.  Sure, I bought this jar of Jif at Eddie's of Mount Vernon for $3, but even in a mega-supermarket it isn't that cheap anymore)
* unsalted butter (Trader Joe's, about $2.25)
* confectioner's sugar (I don't know what kind they use in Ohio, but here it's most likely going to be Domino's.  A pound costs about $1.40 these days)
* semisweet chocolate chips (again, Trader Joe's.  A bag goes for about $2.  I needed 16 oz and all they had were 12 oz bags, so I bought extra.  We wound up using the rest.  Can never have too much chocolate)
* paraffin wax (yes, you read that right.  Paraffin wax is edible, and in many buckeye and other candy recipes it is used as an ingredient to give the chocolate a little extra shininess.  Some recipes I found called for as much as 1/3 cup, or about 1/2 of a bar of wax - there are four bars of wax in that box - but this recipe only called for a few tablespoons.  The buckeyes didn't turn out too shiny, so the next time I might add extra just to see what happens.  By the way, make sure you don't just buy any old wax - not all wax is edible.  Investigate on the web as I did.  Look for it in the supermarket, not Michael's Arts & Crafts (they don't carry this in their cake and candy section).  Gulf Wax is one of the edible kinds, and you can find it at Wegman's in the canning and jarring section for about $4.  Harris Teeter also carries it.)

You will also need at least one toothpick and cookie sheets with wax or parchment paper on them.  You will not, however, be using the actual buckeye that I put in the recipe, in front of the teensy Ohio flag in the above photo.  That's just to show what one looks like.

Well, I had to sample the peanut butter.  To make sure it was okay.  Don't judge me!

Put the peanut butter, unsalted butter and sugar in a mixer.  Eric actually has a mixer - a real mixer, not just a hand held or a secondhand one that has 12 settings, only 8 of which work.

This part ended up being a lot easier than it would have been at home.

Cut off a piece of wax, about a tablespoon's worth.

Granted, it won't fit in the tablespoon.

Set up a double boiler - just put a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water if you don't have this - and melt the wax.

Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted.

Mmmm. Wax and chocolate chips.

Now you're ready to make the peanut butter balls.  Roll them into balls about the size of a walnut (or a buckeye for those of you in Ohio) and set them on a cookie sheet.  You don't really need the parchment paper just yet.

Put them in the freezer for at least five minutes to harden.  In fact, you can do this before you melt the chocolate.  Even faster when two of you do this.

When those balls are hard enough (oh my), break out your toothpicks.

You will dip each ball in the chocolate and set them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Make sure you leave a little of the peanut butter exposed.  We're making buckeye candies, not "balls of peanut butter completely coated in chocolate" candies.

Space them apart enough on the sheet.

And stick the candies in the refrigerator until the chocolate is hard, at least ten minutes.

Oh my goodness, these were delicious, and rich.  I could not eat more than one or two at a time.  I have been pulling them directly out of the fridge so they are a little hard, but they would be even more luscious when brought to room temperature.  I can imagine how well these were received at Eric's workplace, since he works with people who (like me) aren't from Ohio and therefore aren't too familiar with buckeyes.  This candy is easy enough to make, by the way, so I may have to do this again.  Eric, are you up for that some time?


Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.

Christina (blog author).  "Sauerkraut Balls".  Sweet Pea's Kitchen, posted February 5, 2012.  Copyright 2010-2012 Sweet Pea's Kitchen, all rights reserved.

Lowe, Cliff.  "The Life and Times of Chili Cincinnati Chili - Part Two" [sic].  In Mama's Kitchen, date unknown.  Copyright 2012 In Mama's Kitchen, all rights reserved.

"Ohio's Favorite: Buckeye Candy Recipe".  Recipe postcard, date unknown.

University of Akron Press.  "Akronisms: Sauerkraut Balls".  An Akronism, posted June 9, 2010.  Copyright 2012 University of Akron Press, all rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Ohio" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Ohio".

Special thanks to Eric Randolph for making the buckeyes with me, for offering the use of his kitchen, and for giving me his advice in making buckeye candy and in preparing bratwurst.