Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Secret Ingredient

     I don't know if it's because of recent auspicious family events, (the birth of a grandniece and our nephew's wedding), or because I have serious cancer, but I've been nostalgic and feeling like I should try to pass on certain family pearls. I've found myself retelling stories and digitizing old photos for preservation.  A few weeks ago Nina and I made Grandma Anna's meatballs for a family get-together. This recipe is definitely a pearl.
Wynn's grandparents on their wedding day.

      Anna was Wynn's maternal grandmother and although she passed away well over a decade ago, I think of her often and still miss her very much. She was sweet, gentle and chatty.  Anna, the second of seven children, grew up during the Great Depression, worked her whole life in the offices at Sears, raised Wynn's mom, and helped raise Wynn and his three siblings, living with them the last third of her life. She was an amazing keeper of their home and was famously known for her cooking, especially her meatballs.  

Grandma Anna on our wedding day.

     For those of us who remember eating her meatballs, weren't they were all encompassing; taste, smell and texture?  (For those of us who remember walking into the house on Maison Court when Anna lived and cooked there, you'll remember the savory aroma of meatballs, with a slight hint of mothballs.)

     I've decided to share Grandma Anna's meatball recipe as a duty to humankind.  I learned the cooking techniques from Grandma herself. With Nina's assistance, we photo-logged the process. 

Here are the ingredients you'll need.  You can use ground turkey, ground beef, or a combination.  We like the combination the best.  Anna used matzo meal, but we use brown rice flour to make our meatballs gluten-free.  The secret ingredient, (to be revealed later), is a must.

In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, eggs, flour (or matzo meal), garlic powder, seasoning, salt and pepper.  The meat mixture should be a little sticky.  If it's not, add a little water, a tablespoon at a time.  (If not a little sticky when raw, the meatballs will turn out too firm, and who wants hard meatballs?)  Set the meat mixture aside.

In a stockpot, saute chopped onions, green peppers and diced garlic in olive oil.  Add seasoning, salt and pepper.  Stir periodically and saute until they are soft.  Reduce heat to low.

With wet hands, roll 1-1/2 inch balls and place them on top of the sauteed veggies, one layer deep.  Pour just enough crushed tomatoes to cover the first layer. With medium-high heat, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked enough to keep their shape. 

DO NOT STIR them with a utensil because the meatballs will break apart.  (You'll be able to stir the pot later, when all the meatballs are cooked and firm.)


To move the sauce around the meatballs, pick up the pot and gently rock it back-and-forth in a circular motion.

After the first layer of meatballs are cooked firm, roll more meatballs for the second layer.  Add crushed tomatoes and chili sauce to cover each layer as you go. Place a lid on the pot and let it simmer for 10 minutes each time you add a layer.  Remember to allow each layer of meatballs to cook until they are firm before adding the next layer of meatballs. 


When all the meat is rolled, cover the pot and let it simmer on a low heat for 30-40 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the secret ingredient. Gently stir to blend in the jelly.


REMEMBER:  Don't stir the meatballs until they are all cooked and firm.  When you do mix them, do it gently.

     Grandma Anna would make her meatballs the day before she wanted to serve them.  She always said they were better the next day.  Reheat them in the pot on a medium-low heat.  (They take a while to reheat, BTW.) Anna also made sure there was plenty of bread around to dip into the sauce. 

Here's the recipe:

Grandma Anna's Meatballs
  • 3 lbs. ground turkey, beef, or a combination
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 T. matzo meal or brown rice flour
  • 1 T. brown sugar (optional)
  • ~1/2 C. water
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • One medium-large onion, chopped
  • One green bell pepper, chopped
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2-3/4 bottle Heinz chili sauce
  • 2 heaping spoonfuls of grape jelly (Probably ~2T.)
  • Morton's Nature's Seasoning or Lawry's Seasoned Salt (several shakes for the meat mixture and several shakes for the sauce)
  • Salt and pepper, several shakes each
  • Garlic powder, a few shakes
  • Olive oil (to saute the onions and green pepper)
1.  In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, eggs, flour (or matzo meal), water, garlic powder, seasoning, salt and pepper. (Add the optional brown sugar here.) Combine with your hands.  If the meat mixture isn't a little sticky, add water, 1-2 T. at a time.  A slightly sticky meat mixture makes for more tender meatballs.  Set aside.
2.  In a stockpot, saute chopped onions, green peppers and diced garlic in olive oil.  Add seasoning, salt and pepper.  Stir periodically and saute until they are soft. Reduce heat to low.
3.  Form 1-1/2" meatballs and place one layer of meatballs on top of onions and peppers.  Pour some of the crushed tomatoes and chili sauce to cover meatballs.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and simmer for ~10 minutes.  Form meatballs for a second layer.  If needed, repeat for a 3rd layer. Simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes.  DO NOT STIR UNTIL MEATBALLS ARE COOKED.
4.  Turn off heat, add grape jelly.  Gently stir to blend in the jelly.  ENJOY!

Or:   Cool.  Store in 'frig.  Reheat the next day on a medium-low heat. 


Anonymous said...

Hi there Luna, I'm Lindsey! I have a question and would love to speak with you more. Please email me when you have time, thanks so much!!


Anonymous said...

Luna, I am so excited to try these!! It is wonderful that you and your sister were able to fix them. They sound so good!! What a way to remember you and Wynn's Grandma!! Kathy in Omaha