I grew up in the quintessential big farm family. As the first girl after eight boys, I kind of ruled the roost, at least for a short time, until a baby brother and twin sisters came along and spoiled that gig. Farm life needed all of those helping hands in those days because no one had huge tractors or gargantuan combines. We had little red Farmalls – As and Cs – to help do the work on our Century farm. And after all of the farm work, my mom had some starving boys on her hands.
My mom was really not the greatest cook in the world; she just didn’t have time to fuss with fancy foods. She did, however, have some classic dishes that were wonderful. Her big challenge every day was to put a lot of food on the table, fast. Those boys could eat a lot of food and you’d better guard what was on your plate or it would be gone, too! To help keep up with the volume, my dad had a potato truck and a bread truck deliver to our farm.
Thus when I get out one of my mom’s recipes to make something, I almost always have to brush up on my fifth grade fractions to bring them down to “normal” serving sizes. One recipe I looked at recently was for “icebox” sugar cookies. (Side note: She almost never made cookies as they were gone almost before she was done baking. Her recipe calls for 8 cups of flour and 4 cups of sugar – this will be a blog for another day!)
One of those wonderful recipes I remember was Swedish Meatballs. She only made them once a year – at Christmas – because it takes a lot of meatballs to fill up a dozen kids. I hope you enjoy my version of her recipe.
- 1 large yellow onion – peeled and finely grated (I use a food processor )
- 2 TBPS Butter
- ⅔ Cup of Milk
- 4 to 5 slices of white bread, crust cut off and cut or crumbed into pieces
- 2 Eggs
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1½ lbs ground beef
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- Gravy Ingredients
- 4 to 6 TBSP butter
- ⅓ cup flour
- 1 quart beef stock
- 1 cup chicken stock (I like Wyler's Instant Chicken Bouillon Powder to make mine)
- ½ to ¾ cup sour cream
- Salt & pepper as desired
- ** ¼ cup Johnny’s French Dip Au Jus concentrate for extra flavor as needed – commercial beef stock and/or broth can be a little bland – use carefully to taste.
- Sauté onion until soft and translucent – 3 to 4 minutes.
- Mix bread pieces with milk and let set about 15 minutes to soften. If still chunky, smooth out in your food processor.
- Add cooled onions to bread/milk mixture; stir.
- Add remaining ingredients for the meatballs.
- Gentle mix together with your clean hands.
- Use a spoon to measure and form meatballs. I use a teaspoon because I like mine a little smaller.
- Set each aside on a tray(s)
- There are several methods for cooking your meatballs. My mom dropped them into boiling water – just enough to cover for about 10 minutes to help keep the balls together and have a nice shape. She then put them in the oven to brown – and of course with no temperature indicated. So I do bake mine at 375 degrees until golden brown for about 30 minutes. I also put just enough beef stock on the baking sheet to keep them moist during the baking.
Another method I use is to brown them in a frying pan. It’s a little trickier to keep them nicely shaped, but it does provide some incredible brown bits in the pan for making gravy. When I’m making a lot of meatballs – like I made 250 last weekend for our library’s Christmas Open House – I brown about ½ of them on the stove and do the rest in the oven. I always do at least one batch on the stove for the gravy making.
Making the Gravy
Gravy terrifies a lot of people, but be brave – you can do this! In the pan you browned meatballs, drain off all of the extra fat but leave the yummy brown bits.
Prepare your beef stock by warming it in another pan. Add one cup of prepared chicken bouillon to your stock. Keep warm.
In your frying pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter (6 if you start in a dry clean pan). Slowly stir or whisk in the flour. You will be making a classic roux by letting the flour/butter mixture cook on medium heat until it browns to a golden brown. It will be thick but keep stirring.
Start adding your warmed stock to the roux. Keep stirring and adding stock slowly. It will be very thick, but will thin out as you add your stock. Once all of your stock is added, put your meatballs into the sauce. Then turn on low and cook for about 10 minutes.
Your gravy should be silky and thick, and your meatballs should be cooked completely. Taste for salt and pepper. This is when I might add a little Gravy Brown or Johnny’s French Dip Au Jus to give it a deep, luscious flavor.
If you like your gravy thicker, a trick I learned from my mother was to put a couple of tablespoons of flour into a pint mason jar, add COLD water, a little salt and pepper, cover and shake until completely mixed. You can now add a little at a time to your gravy until it reaches your desired thickness.
Move to a serving dish; add sour cream and mix well. Traditionally this is served with Lingonberry jelly. Since we didn’t have IKEA growing up, it was never included on our menu.
Enjoy and keep it simple!
Julie Allyn says
I love the photos of all those big brothers of yours! You are so fortunate to be living in your family’s Century Farm. It really is lovely!
This sounds so good. It has been years since I had Swedish meatballs. When you mentioned the ligonberry jelly, I said to myself “yes, that would be good”. But we are far from an IKEA here in upstate New York, too.
You can order the jelly online I’m sure…I like them without the jelly — either way it reminds me of home.
Love, love, love this! My mom was one girl of nine kids in their Swedish-Canadian home. (They had eight boys and each of them had a sister!) Her parents emigrated from Sweden so she and her brothers were first-generation Canadian. What stories they tell of their lives farming on the great Canadian prairies in the thirties, forties and fifties. By the time I came along in the fifties, Daddy had a few more conveniences. Mom was a terrific cook and made the most wonderful Swedish meatballs! They were our favourites. But you are so right about amounts! I’ve been married over forty years and am still trying to adjust sizes!
Thanks Diane! It is an adventure growing up in big family — Iowa wasn’t quite as remote as those Canadian Prairies, but lots of boys in either case were helpful for all of that work!
We will have to compare recipes – I always like to see how someone else makes something….
Carin Harris says
OMG these look so good! I’m going to pin this and keep it for the next time I make meatballs. Thanks!
Thanks Carin. It makes a lot so I freeze some for another time.
Mark Levad says
Thanks Aunt Mary. I might have to make these.
Rebecca Olkowski (@baby_boomster) says
Wow! Those meatballs look mouth-watering. I bet they’re delicious. Amazing about your large family. That’s a lot of boys.