Fall means football. And for many in Ohio, it means college football. And for some it means the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Bucks. As part of that tradition comes a delicious candy that resembles the fruit of our state tree (declared so by the Ohio General Assembly in 1952) and the mascot of the revered football team. It’s a chocolate dipped peanut butter ball that we call the buckeye. This confection is traditionally made in large batches to be eaten at or while watching the Ohio State Michigan football game. It’s not known if peanut butter helps lessen the stress of this game for fans who bleed scarlet and grey, the Buckeye colors, but it has become one of the most popular candies in the state of Ohio. Chocolate is known to release endorphins, so that may help reduce heart rates during the game.
Columbus’ oldest candy company, Anthony-Thomas, has only been making the buckeye commercially since about 2000, at a rate of about 100,000 pounds a year. Other candy companies in Columbus like Schmidt’s Fudge House, and Krema Nut Company, have taken up making the buckeye. One, EmLolly Candy Co, even makes a blonde, white chocolate-dipped version.
But the tradition of the buckeye candy dates back to 1964. A graduate of Marshall College in West Virginia, Gail Tabor, was a reporter for the Citizen-Journal in Columbus, Ohio, when she met and married, Steve Lucas, who was pursuing a PhD in business at Ohio State. He was a rabid Bucks fan. Gail wrote in a 1983 column for the Arizona Republic, that Steve’s idea of fun was “sitting in the rain and snow watching (OSU) football games. Oh, those memories: Finding the seat, wrapping sock-and-boot-clad feet and legs first in plastic, then in a layer of newspapers, and covering everything with a blanket. You didn’t dare move an inch the rest of the game for fear of disturbing the wrappings and letting in the cold air.”
Anita Gail Tabor Lucas
Christmas of 1964, Gail’s mother, Sadie Tabor, sent them some choclate covered peanut ball candy. After sharing the recipe, Gail made them herself. When she was ready to start dipping the small balls of batter, she didn’t completely cover the peanut butter ball. She held it up on a toothpick and said to her hsuband, “Hey, it looks like a buckeye.”
And thus the candy was christened. The Lucas’ gave away batches to friends that holiday season and they fell in love. They’d beg for the recipes, but Gail was selfish and refused to part with her mother’s secret recipe. She wanted to be the only one in the world to have the secret of making candy-lovers and OSU fans happy.
In 1972 Gail’s husband graduated from Ohio State and they moved from Ohio. The wife of one of the students her husband studied with badgered her for the buckeye recipe. Gail relented, gave up the recipe, and said wife of friend of husband returned to Oklahoma. A few years later, this woman wrote to the Ohio State Alumni Magazine with the recipe claiming it was hers! Gail found out about this on a visit back to Ohio and was furious. She felt betrayed and never trusted another person from Oklahoma. It had always been a tradition in her house to make these balls for the Ohio State Michigan game with her kids, who heard the treachery of the woman from Oklahoma many times over.
Finally, Gail set the record straight in her 1983 column in Arizona and we now know who to thank for our beloved state confection. Gail returned to that Confectionary in the Sky in 2012, but had a long career as a features writer, fashion editor and gossip columnist. In 1961 as the society editor in Columbus, she wrote a story who’s research required her to ride in a jet and became the fifth woman on Earth to break the sound barrier and the first to fly in the F-101B Voodoo.
Her obit described Gail: ” Dogs never had a greater friend, the coalfields never had a prouder daughter, and journalism never had a greater contrarian. To her dying day, she questioned power, defended the powerless, befriended animals and demanded answers.”
Her son, Guy Lucas, an aspiring blogger and journalist re-posted his mother’s 1983 Arizona column on his own wordpress site. That blog was picked up on a slideshow online called United States of Food: Official State Foods, which mentioned “buckeye candies” in its Ohio entry. The traffic for his mother’s post-humously posted ‘blog’ blew away Guy’s previous one-day traffic record. So his mother, who never blogged a day in her life and rarely used the internet, has both the best-read post on Guy’s blog and the biggest single-day audience.