The Christmas Repeal

We don't drink in my hometown. 

Well, people do drink alcohol, of course, but it's never been as socially acceptable to go out and have a glass of wine or a cocktail in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky as it is in the Commonwealth's bigger cities. Part of it is a religious distinction; there's a whole lot of Baptists in our neck of the woods. Part of it is economic; there isn't a lot of extra income for frivolous things like drinkin'. And, more than a little of it comes down to the booze we produce. The Appalachian end of the state doesn't produce Kentucky's storied bourbon. We don't have limestone in our water, nor do we have oak barrels charred to exacting specifications. We have a proud -- or perhaps infamous -- history of moonshine stills. Most of us have a 'shiner or two on our family tree, whether we want to admit it or not. When your spirits are less than legal, you generally don't announce them with pride.

via Maker's Mark

That all changes, come the holidays. Now, it's never been any surprise to me that the 21st Amendment was repealed on December 5th. You need to break out the good stuff for the Christmas baking. And, we may need a little nip in the house, because you never know if company will want some. Even the most devout Baptist grandmas suddenly know their liquor store order when it comes time to make holiday confections. They want Maker's Mark or Early Times. Or rum for the cake. It's not like we drink the rest of the year. It's simply a month-long lift on the Prohibition, in the name of good cheer.

My grandma Margaret would never touch a drop, but she sure would soak her fruitcake. My great-aunt Marie made these weird little cookies with raisins and cherries and a whole lot of rum; they were strangely addictive, and the whole family loved 'em. And then, there are the bourbon balls. My family's recipe. I can't make enough of them during the holidays; everybody wants some. It doesn't matter if you touch bourbon the rest of the year.

This week, we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal, and the far longer-standing tradition of the Christmas Repeal. Here's my family's bourbon ball recipe, if you find yourself in the mood for drinking or baking.



  • 1 to 2 cups good bourbon whisky (preferably Maker's Mark) 
  • 1 cup chopped pecans 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whole pecan halves (optional) 
  • 1 two-pound bag of powdered sugar 
  • 1 stick butter, softened 
  • 1-2 bags semisweet chocolate chips (preferably Ghiradelli)
  •  paraffin wax 


  1. Place 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped pecans in shallow bowl. 
  2. Pour bourbon over nuts, immersing completely. Cover and let soak 12 hours to overnight. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves in shallow pan and toast lightly for about ten minutes. Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. 
  4. Combine bourbon-pecan mixture with just enough powdered sugar to form a stiff ball. Refrigerate to let stiffen slightly. Roll dough into small balls. 
  5. In double-boiler (or a sauce pan placed over a cooker full of boiling water), add a third to a half a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and a small shaving of paraffin wax (no more than 1/4 cup). Heat until just smooth. Dip dough balls into the chocolate mixture. The key is to coat them quickly and make small, frequent batches of melted chocolate. 
  6. Place bourbon balls on wax paper to cool. 
  7. Top each ball with a toasted pecan half, if desired. Results are better if you leave them to cool at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator.