Nothing said Christmas like Mom stocking up on Rice Krispies , crunchy peanut butter, and chocolate chips. While I was sprawled out on the floor with paper and crayon, Mom would be in the kitchen, mixing peanut butter with margarine and powdered sugar, then folding in the cereal with a wooden spoon. Next, she’d dab teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll them into firm, small balls.
By the time she had finished, the counter was full of delicious Rice Krispie-infused peanut butter balls that were then dipped into melted chocolate and placed on wax paper to harden. Though most of the sweets would be frozen and shipped to great aunts and uncles in Florida, some were set aside for our own family Christmas. And Mom would offer at least one, maybe two, to my brother and me to eat right away. We’d bite into them before the chocolate had even set, peanut butter oozing out the sides and smearing our fingers.
When I left home after college, Mom gave me a handwritten copy of the recipe, an heirloom passed from one generation to the next. But it wasn’t until after marrying late in life that I took up the mantle of our family secret. In fact, after years of trying to negotiate two sets of customs for our blended family, the weekly Advent candles, the Christmas Eve eggnog, and the freshly cut Christmas tree have struggled to endure. But all three stepsons and my husband look forward to a fresh batch of peanut butter balls, especially if they can pop one in their mouth before the chocolate sets.
My peanut butter balls are not rolled as small, not dipped as tidily, and certainly not made as voluminously as Mom’s. Then again, like most family traditions, peanut butter balls have taken on a nostalgia that makes the memory of them almost better than the real thing … almost.
A couple of years ago, when it was time to make the peanut butter balls again, I couldn’t find the handwritten recipe card. With a quick internet search, I landed on the Kellogg’s website where I found a recipe, the exact recipe, of my family’s peanut butter balls. A few minutes passed before the realization settled over me: This was no family secret. Apparently, it was just a recipe from the back of a cereal box Mom had made her own.
Now, with each batch of peanut butter balls I make, I feel the connection between present and past—the real past that nostalgia hasn’t clouded. And each time the boys pop a peanut butter ball into their mouth, I can’t help but feel the same satisfaction my mom must have felt in making the confection for us each Christmas. Old traditions are good, but so is making up new ones with whatever we find that sticks.
As it turns out, our family recipe isn’t exactly like the one from the cereal box, or at least not exactly like the one Kellogg’s currently publishes on their website. Either the official recipe has changed over the years, or mom modified ours slightly. When I dug her old handwritten recipe out of her recipe box and asked her about it, she doesn’t actually remember where she got it. Either way, here’s the recipe I grew up eating. I’m going to try making this “old fashioned” version this year myself.
Peanut Butter Balls Recipe
The author’s own, modified recipe:
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
1 box powdered sugar, or about 3 1/2 cups
2 cups crunchy peanut butter
3 cups Rice Krispies
Mix with hands, roll into small balls (about 75) and lay on wax paper.
4 ounces Hershey Bar
6 ounces semi-sweet morsels
1/2 stick paraffin
Melt over hot water. Dip balls in chocolate mixture. Drain on wax paper.
Originally published at In Touch Magazine on November 19, 2018.