Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Ham Balls!

Here is partial listing of what my mother deemed to be this year's "nothing fancy and a lighter spread" Thanksgiving which we celebrated at my grandparents' yesterday afternoon and which left me all fetal for the better portion of the evening and early hours this morning:

  • ham balls (really, is ANY good midwestern meal complete without a ham ball?)
  • turkey (two kinds, juicy/in broth stuff and um, dry)
  • stuffing
  • garlic/onion mashed potatoes
  • gravy
  • cranberries (straight outta the can...mmmm)
  • cranberry, apple, raspberry, nut some kinda jello salad thing that was actually in cupcake holders (weird. but tastey.)
  • sweet potato casserole with lots of yummy brown sugary nutty goodness on top
  • green fluff (again, see comment above about ham balls)
  • plain jello (in a mold of some sort)
  • jello squares, or, "finger jello"
  • cheese
  • deer meat
  • deer meat with cheese embedded in said deer meat (fancy)
  • wine from various Iowa aunt did the tour, we drank the results.
  • beer
  • deviled eggs
  • root beer
  • homemade rolls
  • homemade jelly
  • pecan pie
  • pumpkin pie
  • apple pie
  • brownies
  • pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting
  • peanut butter bars
  • green bean casserole

Oh, I am sure there are other items I am forgetting, but you get the idea. There were probably nine crock pots going all told. So many crock pots that a power strip was required.

It was midwestern food gluttony at it's finest. But in the end, I did not want this post to be merely a listing of food items, I wanted it to be about HAM BALLS. Because this a.m., when I told one of my non-Iowa based friends that I'd eaten the shit out of some ham balls yesterday, she doubled over in a fit of laughter and said this:

What in the fuck is a ham ball?
And how in the fuck does THAT work...I mean, how does one get the ham in the ball?

To which I replied:

Hell if I know....I am pretty sure I don't WANT to know either!

And then she promptly Googled and sent me this recipe, saying something like, "hmmm," which probably means she is very scared of the Ham Ball but cannot readily admit that yet being that she fancies herself for trying every culinary masterpiece at least once. And I am sure she was even more scared when I told her that the recipe looked way too fancy and much more elegant than the typical Iowa based ham ball recipe.

The telltale: I am fairly certain the sauce in the typical Iowa Ham Ball recipe nearly always contains grape jelly as one of its main ham ball sauce ingredients, sadly, not whiskey. And I would not at all be surprised to learn that the ham in Ham Balls is actually not ham at all, but perhaps something like oh, SPAM.

The ham balls I ate yesterday had somewhat of an orange tint. No shit. They also tasted mildly of grape suckers.

Ham balls seem to have been popping into the periphery of my existence for years now, and I find it hysterical that people from places other than the midwest have never even heard of them. When Brad and I were were living in Washington together and would travel back to Iowa for a visit with our respective families here, Brad's mom would go to great, great extremes to cook whatever she deemed as Brad's favorite meal for each visit.

This usually meant...ham balls and some jello salad, of course. Never mind that Brad hates ham balls and he also doesn't particularly care for jello salad either.

Nonetheless, Brad's mom thought he loved them both and would happily squeeze his cheeks like a four year old, and lament to everyone how she'd gone to great lengths to make Brad's favorite for his visit. And Brad and I would sit in the little loveseat in his parents' 85 degree living room laughing our asses off while we awaited our ham ball dinner.

Thankfully, one Ragbrai a few years back Brad began dragging his buddy Richard to Iowa for these visits, and Richard fell head over hells in LOVE with ham balls. In fact, Richard could probably be nominated president of Brad's mother's Ham Ball Fan Club. So now there are even more ham balls, Richard or not, and of course that tried and true story about how Richard he loooves those ham balls! I recall one visit when Richard stayed in Seattle, the suggestion that perhaps we should package some ham balls up and take them to Richard on our way through Seattle towards Bellingham.

And of course, if we are lucky during these meals, there is also green fluff, or some other flashy jello salad. Last time, if I recall, it was jello with snickers and apples and pretzels and broccoli or some other totally random vegetable that gave Brad great pause and made me kick him in the shins under the table to avoid my spitting my food across the room in a fit of laughter.

Yesterday Thank the Maker on this early Thanksgiving there were both ham balls AND green fluff! Ironically, (or perhaps not) Brad was safely in Washington, riding his bike up the side of some mountain and completely oblivious to it all, and I have no clue where his mother was; sadly she was also no part of this ham ball event.

I had a couple ham balls for Brad to mark the occassion anyways, and toasted him 2,000 some miles away with a big ole swig of Iowa wine from a very plastic cup. I am certain, whether he knew consciously or not, that he was very thankful at that very moment.

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