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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM SYD McGINLEY
Buckeyes and Conkers
Wednesday, November 23, 1949
Dayton, Ohio, USA
Brady glopped a scoop of creamy peanut butter into a basin. Crispin had never eaten peanut butter. He’d tried to describe it to Crispin and explain why it was good, but Crispin had shrugged it off as “some Yank thing” like adults drinking milk.
Crispin always dismissed what he didn’t or couldn’t have. Brady smiled. English pride. Well, it got them through the Blitz. They’d had no chocolate either. Or bananas.
He added in a hefty dollop of fresh butter, and stirred. Rationing and blackouts were two things he sure didn’t miss about Jolly Olde England. In fact, he didn’t miss much about that country. It had been damp and gray and the constant stress of air raids had worn on him. He was no coward, but being attacked from afar was another matter. And seeing women and children run for cover…
“Civilians shouldn’t be smashed to pieces,” he’d grumbled. Crispin had given him a wry look and muttered “no, indeed” as they hurried to the subway for shelter. “The Tube,” corrected Crispin. “We call the underground ‘the Tube’”.
Brady stirred harder. Being down in the underground stations had been a communal dorm-like experience as Londoners slept on the platforms and toughed out the raids, but smaller shelters had their charms and camaraderie, too. Blackouts had advantages and, as they walked home, darkened doorways often allowed for a rare public moment of affection. Crispin had pulled Brady into one and crushed him hard against his chest. Brady could still remember the serge uniform chafing his chin, and then the rasp of their stubble as their mouths sought each other in the dark. Furtive, but sweet.
He’d been blue the November night that he’d first met Lieutenant Crispin St. John — Leff-tenant Sinjin as he pronounced it. “Why so glum?” asked the English officer.
“Chum,” mumbled Brady. “Why so glum, chum? Well, bud, it’s an American holiday. And I’m here. With no sweet potatoes and these…” He poked at the powdered eggs.
“Scrambled eggs. Delicious!”
Brady shuddered even in memory. Crispin had jollied him through that evening meal in the canteen, asking questions about Thanksgiving and his home, and then shown him a better route to his lodgings. Brady was still learning London, and navigating it in the blackout sure was a chore. Brady had asked Crispin in on a whim, and from a desire to not be alone on Thanksgiving.
“I have a Hershey Bar,” he’d said clumsily, and Crispin had teased him ever since about being seduced by a stranger with sweeties.
Shyness had fallen away quickly, and they’d canoodled the blessedly raid-free night away.
Crispin had a sweet tooth, no doubt about it. The sugar rationing tormented him, and for a while Brady had wondered if it were he or his care packages Crispin – his “looie” as he teasingly called him – loved. They’d taken walks through the London parks, through the sodden remnants of Fall –Autumn, corrected Crispin – and pieced together a restrained but deep passion. Rare nights in Brady’s room, company in the canteen, support in the shelters. Both expected to be in London for the duration. Neither could tell the other how they spent their on-duty hours. And both hesitated to discuss “after” the jerries were beaten.
Brady shook out an unthinkable amount of powdered sugar into his bowl, and carefully worked it in to his peanut mixture.
Their first kiss outside the haven of Brady’s digs had been under a horse chestnut tree in the park. It was dark enough and private enough that they dared. Brady had hummed a little Glenn Miller and his heart clenched when Crispin crooned back: Underneath the spreading chestnut tree, I loved him and he loved me…
“Of course,” Crispin added, “this is a horse chestnut. Not a real one.”
Brady had caught a bitter note, and asked “what’s the difference? How is this not real?”
Crispin could be a literal-minded bugger sometimes, and he’d gone on to talk about conkers and chestnuts.
“Here,” he’d said, and bent down to grab a green spiky ball. They’d been kicking them aside as they walked and smooched. Crispin gave it a twist, and a glossy brown nut popped out.
“Oh! A buckeye!” said Brady. “Can’t eat those, right?”
“Right,” said Crispin, more bitterness welling. “Fruit of a poison tree…”
“Jeeze,” said Brady. “You are a downer. Buckeyes are great candy. My Aunt Sadie makes them every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Crispin had looked at him in horror, and then in envy as Brady described the amounts of sugar, butter, and chocolate, and yes, the alien peanut butter, that went into the confection.
“We Brits just whack each other’s nuts,” he said in awe over the buckeye.
Brady chuckled as he remembered how much confusion and smutty jokes that had caused. Crispin had taught Brady to play conkers and they’d passed many air raid hours smashing their shoe-lace strung nuts into each other’s nuts. Most kids had been evacuated, but Brady struck up some friendships with some rather grubby little beasts over discussions of sixers and whether a vinegar soak of your nuts was cheating.
He started his double boiler — “pardon me, my bain-marie,” he muttered — to melt his chocolate pieces while his nut balls chilled on the back porch. It would be but a week or so before the first snowfall. Their Ohio street in December was a festive sight and soon it would be time for carols and roasting chestnuts.
“… on an open fire,” he crooned in his best Nat King Cole voice. This was the best time of year! Thanksgiving tomorrow and Christmas yet to come! All the joy of anticipation.
Oh! He checked his watch. Speaking of anticipation! He grabbed his peanut balls in from the cold and started dipping them in the melted chocolate.
Done! And just in time. The back door opened.
“My war bride!” he jested as Crispin St. John stamped his feet and swore. Ohio temperatures were brutally low to a Brit. “Come and get warm. I’ve a pot of tea and a plate of candy conkers for us to share. “
“Buckeyes,” said Crispin as he rolled Brady’s confection around his tongue. “Insanely sweet and American. Come and kiss me. Oh, and call me a war bride again and I’ll pop you one.”
Conkers and Buckeyes
Playing conkers and eating buckeyes are both great fun, and I thought a little transatlantic wartime romance would tie the two together. I hope you enjoy this sweet little tale and recipe.
When I first came to Ohio I was surprised that what I thought were conkers (horse chestnut) were called buckeyes. Technically they are different trees, but their nuts look very similar. Aesculus glabra is the state tree of Ohio while Aesculus hippocastanum is the European tree, the horse chestnut. I was further surprised to learn that no one played conkers and that buckeye candy was a huge holiday season treat in Ohio — both for Fall symbolism and because the college football season is in full swing. The Ohio State University team is nicknamed the Buckeyes and has some rabid followers.
Neither buckeyes nor conkers are safe for humans to eat, but the candy is dementedly sweet and delicious. I can only eat one! They are very easy to make — I’m a clumsy clod, and mine turned out acceptably — and tasted great.
Like Crispin, I had limited exposure to peanut butter in England. My invalid grandmother had a jar as a health supplement. When I was first in America, I thought of it as “little kid food” because of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich cult. I made a PBJ once and was laughed at because, Brit style, I buttered my sandwich bread first. These days, I’m still a bit puzzled by peanut butter, but it does make a fine candy ingredient.
Brady’s Aunt Sadie’s Buckeye Recipe
In American with suggested UK equivalents. This makes a party-sized amount – about 4 dozen – but it’s easily halved or quartered.
2 cups smooth / creamy peanut butter (about half a medium sized (28 oz) jar)
2 sticks of butter (8 oz)
22 oz powdered / confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar in the UK)
12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Blend the butter, peanut butter, and sugar together — slowly so you don’t have a sugar cloud! I used the lowest mixer speed, but you can do it by hand. It’s easier if you have the butter and peanut butter at room temperature first. It makes a stiff dough.
Put some wax / parchment paper on a cookie sheet / baking tray. Roll your peanut mixture into little balls and set them on the paper. Most recipes suggest walnut-sized balls. Apparently walnut sized means something different to most cooks — I envisioned them in their shells and my candies turned out too big for easy eating — I needed two bites and it was too much sugar in one dose! Rather than “walnut” how about, duh, a small conker or buckeye size?
Pop the balls into a fridge or freezer. You’re just chilling them while the chocolate melts so no need to wrap them. If they’re chilled, they take the chocolate easier.
In a bain-marie (double boiler) melt your chocolate. Gently microwaving the chocolate in a bowl works just as well.
Using a toothpick, dunk each ball into the chocolate. Don’t immerse them all the way — leave exposed peanut butter to make the “eye.” Put them back on the cookie sheet. Smooth over the toothpick hole. If you’re doing a big batch, the balls may warm and soften up — just re-chill them and, if necessary, re-melt the chocolate. The contrast between chilled dough and hot chocolate makes the chocolate shell dipping work better.
Refrigerate the dipped balls until the chocolate is set.
Eat! I like them straight from the fridge and with a cup of tea!
You can also make them into candy conkers. This has some leather lace, but a licorice shoe string would be fun.
Note: they don’t stand up to whacking!
Syd McGinley writes the Dr. Fell series as well as other queer erotica stories. Claims that Dr. Fell is merely a less grumpy version of Syd are totally unfounded.
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3. What were shepherds washing in the spoof version of While Shepherds Watched?