Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
“As a child, what is something that you thought was very fancy that, as an adult, you’ve realized is not very fancy at all?”
That’s a question that was recently posed to me. My answer? “Buttermints.”
It seems to me that when I was growing up, these small, pastel squares of creamy, minty goodness were usually only to be had at baby showers, bridal teas, wedding receptions and other celebratory occasions. Maybe a meeting of the Garden Club or a ladies’ afternoon of bridge. The soft colors were the perfect complement to bright, white wedding cake icing or a cream cheese and cucumber finger sandwich (crustless, of course). They don’t melt onto your fingers or gloves like chocolate. They freshen a lady’s breath without her having to chew gum like an old cow chewing its cud.
Buttermints often appeared on solemn occasions too, usually served alongside coffee and pound cake in a formal living room after a funeral. At those times, when you need a little sugar boost to get you through the day but you’re really too overcome to eat a full meal, there would be a small dish of mints on a doily somewhere. And buttermints are quiet. No crinkly wrapper to break a somber silence like an everyday old Starlight peppermint.
Somehow, though, the noble buttermint seems to have faded from favor. It’s been replaced by barks and brickles. Our sweets have to be “artisan” and “gourmet.” They’re made with matcha and mango and yuzu. In fact, I recently read an article about candies to serve at a wedding that listed such things as Nerds, Swedish Fish, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids and Warheads. In what universe are these wedding candies?
Notably absent from the list? Buttermints.
But I’m here today to bring back the buttermint! Not only are they just plain good (butter, cream, confectioners’ sugar and mint oil – nothing wrong with any of that!), I maintain that they are the perfect special occasion candy.
First, they’re pretty and versatile. Buttermints match every decor and every occasion – dress them up with a crystal dish or dress them down with a Ball jar. Put them on the buffet or alongside the snacks. Wrap them up in a little baggie, tie it with a coordinating ribbon and you’ve got yourself a party favor.
They are easy to handle and eat while socializing. Have you ever had to balance a cocktail, a plate and a napkin while standing in a crowded party as you try to eat a Caprese salad on a stick? Who invented that? Someone who does not like their guests, that’s who. It goes without saying that there’s no graceful way to eat anything that comes on a stick. How are you supposed to shove a cherry tomato the size of a golfball covered in some sort of balsalmic reduction into your mouth in one bite? Imagine how lovely it would be to have a little mint that you can eat gracefully. Save the salads – on sticks or otherwise – for the dinner table.
And buttermints are simple. And I mean that in the best possible way. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be at the forefront of the latest trends – alternative chocolates (yes, that’s a thing), “swicy” ingredients (that’s sweet and spicy together in one item – like me if I were a candy), and mood food (that’s snacks with cannabis added, not something you want to spring on someone without a heads-up – also illegal in Alabama). There’s a lot of work and, often, a lot of money, that goes into throwing a get-together with all the latest noshes on display.
But what is a party all about? It’s not whether you have miso in the ice cream or chocolate-covered crickets or a stack of tinned fish (I wish I was kidding). Parties are for spending quality time with the people you love, having a laugh and hugging a neck – not being stuck in the kitchen trying to slather butter all over a perfectly good cutting board. People will remember the fun, not the food. So why run yourself ragged and miss out?
That’s why this year I’m hanging up my apron, abandoning my dream of creating the perfect butter board in favor of my old friend the buttermint and joining the party. And I hope to see you there. mb
BBorn and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.