Grace Bender passed away nearly ten years ago, and her husband, Fred, died this past November. Fred and Grace were both very special to our family. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Fred was one of the senior associates at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut, and he and Grace took very good care of David and me, the newbie clergy couple on staff.
Fred always gave David good counsel, and he and Grace had us over to dinner regularly, but I mostly remember how good they were to Maggy and Sharon. Our second year in town, I took a job working in New York, a two-and-a-half-hour round trip commute every day. I’d leave around 7:30, and typically David would get the girls off to school. He worked days, nights, weekends, and holidays, but one of the perks was that he didn’t have to be in the office until 9 a.m., and since we lived right on campus, that meant he could walk out the door at 8:59.
Sometimes, though, he’d have an early morning meeting, and on those days, David would take Maggy and Sharon to Grace’s and Fred’s where they would stay until the bus came. The girls might have resented being dragged to someone’s house before school, but not the Bender’s home.
Maggy and Sharon would arrive already having had breakfast, but they couldn’t resist Fred and Grace’s offer of waffles and orange juice, which Fred always called OJ! They were wonderful surrogate grandparents for kids whose grandmother and grandfather lived nearly twelve hundred miles away. As busy working parents, David and I were grateful for their loving care of our girls.
Fred’s funeral was a few weeks ago. The reception was an abundant spread of tea sandwiches and cookies, including platters and platters of pecan balls. One bite, and I knew these cookies were not store-bought treats. Light as cotton and tasting of pure butter and roasted pecans, the confectioner’s sugar melted on the tongue. Could this be manna?
Turns out they were Grace’s recipe, and her daughter, Sara, made them for the funeral. Her other daughter, my friend Cindy, says the recipe dates back to their great-grandmother who mostly likely inherited it from family in England before she came to the United States.
I’m so glad a piece of Grace is still with us.
Grace Bender’s Pecan Balls
Makes about 5 dozen
2 sticks (8 ounces) salted butter (softened)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) pecans, ground very fine
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper positions and heat oven to 300 degrees.
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Divide dough into 2-teaspoon portions, rolling each into a ball, and arrange on 2 large cookie sheets.
Bake cookies until golden brown and fragrant, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely and then roll each cookie in confectioner’s sugar to coat completely. Can be stored in a tin for a couple of weeks or frozen for a month.