When I married my husband, I – like other newlyweds – had no real idea just what I was getting into with the whole marriage gig. What I mean to say is that you fall head over heels in love with someone and just never think about how adding that person to your personal history also means you are adding all the people and history that your loved one has acquired along the way. Lucky for me, my husband came with a great family and some quite excellent stories. He also came with the legacy of the Christmas cookies we call Mimi’s Orange Balls.
Let me share his story and her recipe with you.
I met Mimi, my mother-in-law’s mother, when she came for my wedding. She was a typical Texan grandmother – pink lipstick and sprayed hair. She had a big smile and twinkling eyes and the best legs I had ever seen on a woman, let alone a woman in her early 80s. On my wedding night, she sat next to me in our hotel suite, patted my hand and comforted me by saying that, “no matter what happens tonight, remember he loves you very much.” Mimi was definitely from that old school of propriety, and lace hankies, having your hair done weekly, and such things. I thought she was adorable.
Then, about a month later when the Christmas package arrived from her, I thought she was an angel as she filled my new husband with the Christmas spirit simply by sending him a package of her Orange Balls.
Orange Balls have always been my husband’s favorite part of the holidays. It just isn’t Christmas for him until he sinks his teeth into that first confection; standing there over the opened container, powdered sugar coating his fingers, and a look just this side of gastronomic heaven, he is lost for a few moments in the memories of Christmases past.
This year, he offered his Orange Balls to our children – the oldest son turned up his nose for the the 8th year running. The youngest son polished off one, but then spit the second out and proclaimed them “yucky.” But our daughter delighted her daddy by finding them just as tasty as he does. He turned to me and just beamed for the Legacy of Mimi’s Orange Balls will continue.
He pulled our daughter onto his lap and tucked her into his side, smoothing her hair and began with this story.
“Every year when I was a boy, my Mimi would send me Orange Balls for Christmas. No matter what it was like outside, how much snow there was or anything, it just didn’t feel like Christmas to me until I had an Orange Ball.
So this one year, Mimi couldn’t send her Orange Balls like she usually did, so your Granny made some orange balls for us. And, well, they just weren’t very good. They weren’t bad, but they just weren’t Mimi’s Orange Balls. We didn’t want to hurt Granny’s feelings, but those orange balls just weren’t as good as Mimi always made them and we all thought so. Anyway, over the years, Mimi would send Orange Balls and they would be the best things ever, but when Granny would make them – using the exact same recipe and everything – they just weren’t nearly as good.
Then, a long time ago now, my Mimi died. She died right after Christmas and while I was sad to lose my Mimi, she was an old lady and very tired. It was time for her to go to heaven. That whole year passed and then that Christmas, Granny made orange balls. And a miracle happened. They tasted just like Mimi’s Orange Balls.
It’s like there can be only one Orange Ball maker in the family at a time.
So I am so happy that you like Orange Balls, because someday, there will need to be a new Orange Ball maker to send Orange Balls to all the grandbabies to make their Christmases the best Christmases ever.”
So, here are Mimi’s Orange Balls. I’ve tried making them and everyone is always polite about it, but I can tell they just don’t have the magic yet. When my mother-in-law leaves this place and joins her mother, I have a feeling it will not be me who can make Mimi’s Orange Balls, but my daughter. And so it will be that Mimi will continue to be with us, Christmas after Christmas.
Mimi’s Orange Balls
1 box Vanilla Wafers, crushed
1 16 oz. box of powdered sugar
1 cup finely ground pecans
1 6 oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
Mix all ingredients and form into small balls. Roll in powdered sugar and let rest for an hour. Re-roll in powdered sugar and store in a tightly covered container.
*Update 12/22/2010: I made a batch of these yesterday and when Mister Soandso had one, his face did not come alight with the joy associated with Mimi’s Orange Balls. To my inquiring look, he said “they’re fine.” To which I responded, “I didn’t make them for you. I made them for Middlest.” Who, by the way, assures me that those Orange Balls are awesome and just like her Granny’s. We did, however, decide that it would be unfair to hold a blind taste-test between my mother-in-law’s and mine. What matters most isn’t whose Orange Balls are best. What matters most is that for my husband, the taste of Orange Balls keeps the magic of Christmas alive. With each of Mimi’s Orange Balls, now made by his mom, his beloved Mimi is with him on Christmas. And so the legacy continues…