Wouldn't Be Christmas Without Them
Copyright 2015 by Kay Harper
and I were baking an imaginary cake in the kindergarten’s
pint-sized kitchen when Daddy and the boys poked their heads in.
“Ready?” Daddy asked with a grin. Moma replied with
little let’s-get-outa-here jig. Soon we were back in the car,
skipping out on big peoples’ church to go on a family
adventure. We stopped at home just long enough to put on our play
clothes then drove to the grove of pecan trees out north of town.
Chevy cruised along the November countryside. In the distance, trees
appeared to dance in the crisp autumn breeze. They were like ancient
giants with their arms flung high overhead, so high it looked as if
they could touch the sky. When we arrived, their long swaying
branches greeted us with a deafening silence.
was a shiver in the air, and we saw our breath as we got out of the
car. Daddy got the floppy old blanket from the trunk and spread it
out on the ground. “Now, I’m gonna climb up there
shake ‘em down. Stand clear.”
he went—higher and higher until he reached what he thought
the perfect point. Then, he leaned down and started to jiggle the
branches, gently at first, then harder and harder, until at last the
nuts broke free and hailed down onto the old quilt.
the storm of pecans showered before us, Bob, Bill and I scampered
around, flipping the strays onto the spread. All the while, I
imagined all the cookies and candies that would soon find their way
around them, not to mention the pecan pie that would provide a
spectacular finale for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
brought the clumpy blanket home, and dumped the huge pile of nuts
under the carport, bagged our treasure in brown paper bags, and
hauled them into the furnace room to dry out.
next step was the cracking. Moma had invented a sure-fire procedure.
She clamped the nutcracker onto the kitchen stool and placed a Sara
Lee fruitcake tin underneath. How perfectly it caught the nuts as
they fell open!
crunch, crack, drop. Crack, squash, crack, crack. Moma’s
was steady. As the pecans piled up, the goodness of the meat peeked
out. Moma smiled as she concentrated on her task.
Oh boy, I knew what that meant. RATTLETIME! Moma put the lid on the
Sara Lee tin, slid it off the stool into my waiting hands, and I
shook that thing like it was the best maraca this side of Rio.
Moma had a theory. She said, “Pecans like being out of their
shells, so if you crack them open enough and shake them in a tin hard
enough, most of the time the outer covering simply falls
Maybe that was her way of making the next task appear a bit easier.
Her words certainly made it more exotic. And at age five, already
possessing a bent for drama, exotic was very appealing.
the official pecan sheller in our family, my job was to prepare the
nuts for their ready-to-eat state. That meant picking out all the
tiny particles of shell that didn’t come off during my Carmen
Miranda routine. It was a painstaking process that wore on what
little patience I had.
at the kitchen table, my small fingers dusted the surface. Then, I
used a metal pick to get down into the grooves of each pecan. The
repetition helped me perfect my movements, as hundreds of pecans
passed through my fingers.
course, some nuggets found their way into my mouth. Moma’s
sixth sense kicked in as she appeared at the kitchen door,
Kay, we won’t have any for goodies if you keep that
up.” I looked up at her, sighed a little, and then looked
down at the
seemingly endless pile of nuts—more determined than ever to
task accomplished, I skipped across the kitchen to Moma’s
and lifted up our treasure, meeting her smile with mine. We both knew
what came next—BUTTER BALLS!
filled the big metal mixing bowl with softened butter, sugar and
flour. In went my freshly washed little hands to squish the
ingredients together. Moma stood beside me, dropping handfuls of
chopped pecans into the dough.
we lined the cookie sheets on the countertop, rolled the dough into
little balls, put them on the sheets and popped them in the oven. The
sweet, buttery scent drifted all through the house. When the cookies
came out, we rolled them in powdered sugar, and I delivered them to
Daddy and the boys who were in the living room pretending to be
watching TV. I knew they were really waiting for the cookies. With
the first bite we knew that the Christmas season was here.
been away from my parents’ home for more than forty years,
for more than thirty years Moma sent me a big bag of (already
shelled) Missouri pecans for my Christmas treats.
Christmas, baking Butter Balls will be one of my favorite ways to
celebrate the season of love and good cheer. Yes, it tugs at my heart
that the pecans will come from Sam’s Club instead of those
great dancing trees out on the horizon.
still, I’ll love making those powdered-sugared, pecan-laden
delicacies to share with my family and friends. And as I eat more
than my share, I will savor the memories of those Christmases long
ago. You see, Butter Balls are more than mere family tradition; the
truth is—it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
Balls…A Harper Family Christmas Tradition
5 T. sugar
3 – 31/2
1 c. chopped pecans
by hand in the order shown
Roll into small balls
up on ungreased cookie sheets
at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes
Cool for a few minutes
in a plastic bag with powdered sugar
Prepare to eat and smile!
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