Considering that no one in our immediate family was Swedish (at least as far as we know), it’s a little strange that Swedish meatballs became the centerpiece for our yearly Christmas dinner. It just goes to show that anything can become a tradition if you let it.
My family discovered Swedish meatballs in 1964. We were traveling by train from Los Angeles to New York City. Both my parents had been raised on Long Island, and they wanted their California daughter to see where they had grown up. The New York World’s Fair provided an excellent excuse for a vacation. It takes three days to travel diagonally across the country—plenty of time to chat with the other passengers. My mom happened to be sitting next to a very nice lady who gave her this recipe.
Meatballs are great finger food for toddlers, so our two girls didn’t have to wait until they were nine. Our elder daughter liked them so much, she once downed eleven of them at one sitting—and she was only 15 months old!
Since they were a family favorite, it was no surprise when our growing girls asked for Swedish meatballs for Christmas dinner one year. I was happy to oblige, and served them with mashed potatoes, peas (buttered and with a sprinkling of nutmeg), crescent rolls (the kind from the tube), a red-white-and-green Jell-O mold, and of course, birthday cake (with candles) for Jesus.
Everyone was so enthusiastic that I made the same meal again the following year… and learned a valuable parenting lesson. With small children, anything you do two years in a row becomes an inviolable tradition. You are committed for the rest of your life.
Maybe this year, we’ll get invited to one of our daughters’ houses for Christmas dinner. I’ll bring the rolls.
1 lb. lean ground beef
¼ lb. lean ground pork (try an Asian market for lean ground pork)
1 C soft bread crumbs
2 tsp. basil, crushed
2 tsp. rosemary, crushed
1 Tbsp. allspice (freshly ground is best)
1½ C water
1 can cream of mushroom soup*
2 tsp. beef stock base
¼ C red wine
Oil for browning
Thoroughly mix meat, egg, bread crumbs, herbs and allspice—using your hands works best. Form into small balls, slightly smaller than a ping pong ball.
Heat a little oil in a Dutch oven and brown the meatballs, turning them evenly.
Add water to the pot, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the beef stock base.
Combine the wine and soup and whisk until smooth. Add a little meatball broth and blend, then pour it all into the pot. Stir gently. Heat through.
Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.
These reheat very well.
* I no longer use the canned soup, preferring to make my own gravy with cream. It’s more work, and more calories, but it sure tastes wonderful! Besides, I don’t make this every week.
Variation: Swedish Meatloaf (same flavor, less work)
Mix 1½ lbs. ground beef, ¼ lb. ground pork, one egg, 1 cup bread crumbs, and the same herbs and allspice. Add ¼ can mushroom soup and mix well.
Turn into a loaf pan, pressing to remove air bubbles. Mix the rest of the soup with ½ tsp. beef stock base, 2 Tbsp. water and 2 Tbsp. red wine. Pour over loaf. Bake at 350°F for 1½ hours or until a thermometer inserted into the loaf measures well done.