Every three weeks I receive a reminder about my Mountain Express column, an alert evoking a cascade of musings on possible topics—holidays, community events, national celebrations, family traditions, and which foods trend with the natural seasonal flow. Or, I’ve just been down a rabbit hole for client research, my food memoir, or contract work, and feel compelled to tie the findings to more existential subjects.

As I write my 60th column, I feel grateful for this tradition that breaks from my other rhythms, connecting me to our community. I appreciate the opportunity to write for fellow foodies, busy moms, supportive neighbors, friends working in healthcare and in schools, locals running businesses, and many I’ve yet to meet. I hope each article helps at least one person find kitchen inspiration, rethink food values or strategies, discover links between food, the earth and our bodies, or simply enjoy a respite from the outer world.

Holidays tune us in to community interconnectedness, too. Last week I sewed reusable gift bags for Syringa Mountain School’s booth at the Papoose Bazaar, while listening to the “3-in-30” podcast created by one of our local moms. It was an episode about holiday traditions: a gift, a food, and an activity.

My mouth watered as I imagined my favorite winter food tradition: Buckeyes!

For years, a local dietitian, a favorite doctor and I have taken turns hosting a cookie exchange party (oh, the irony!). Every year, I endeavored to test a different cookie recipe—cappuccino flats dipped in chocolate, peppermint patties, rosemary shortbread. These experiments were always in addition to my iteration of the famed Ohio buckeyes (not even a cookie!).

Growing up I wrongly assumed buckeyes were an Italian tradition brought to this country with my great-grandparents. Nope. Peanut butter, apparently, is not Italian—it’s American.

When my grandparents moved to northwestern Pennsylvania--minutes from Ohio—buckeyes entered their holiday lives. Their daughter (my aunt) included the recipe in her cookbook—recipes she collected from years cooking at our family’s backcountry ranch in the Frank Church Wilderness Area—and attributed the buckeye recipe to Mildred Truppi (my grams). Every year in our own home, my mother initiated the assembly line of peanut butter ball mixing, freezing, spearing, chocolate plunging. Hence, buckeyes have been an integral part of my upbringing.

When I became a mama, I was eager to carry on the tradition. I have a photo of my son at 2, standing at the stove on a stool (in his underwear), dipping. As a nutritionist mama, I could not make gramma’s recipe using 2 pounds of powdered sugar. Or margarine. Or 1/8 square of paraffin wax or vegetable shortening.

Naturally, I’ve been reinventing the recipe. I may use chunky peanut butter or add almond butter, cinnamon, unsweetened coconut flakes. Some years I pulverize coconut sugar or melt coconut concentrate in lieu of butter. For me, the tradition isn’t making the same recipe as gramma or mama; the tradition is the two-day, all-family buckeye-making event!

And our cookie exchange party isn’t for obtaining feedback on the newest recipe combination. It’s for friends to gather and share our family cookie traditions; to ensure individual traditions remain a part of each family; to extend traditions to our greater family.

Happy cooking to everyone who values family food traditions!


Jamie Truppi, MSN, is an integrative nutritionist focusing on functional foods and family wellness.

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