My family’s never been big on annual traditions.
I mean, sure, at Christmastime, there’s a tree and presents. We mail greetings and watch movies that come on TV, like most people do. We eat cookies (but then we always eat cookies). And then there are a few other recipes we associate with the season, you know, things that sometimes get made, sometimes don’t, from fudge to cream cheese to the gem I bring you today: sweet and tangy meatballs.
But these meatballs aren’t just for Christmastime, and they’re not always with Christmastime—with my family, few things are. In fact, some of you may remember seeing them at our (hot and balmy) blog party last August, where 32 people managed to eat over 100 in the space of a few hours. There were so many requests for the recipe afterwards—Mom gets all the credit there—that I had to post a quick version over on our Facebook page, with plans to give these year-round appetizers better treatment later on.
Now’s that time. Because while these meatballs aren’t just or always for Christmas, I usually think of them now, at the end of December, when I remember holiday parties and buffet tables lined with snacks, from chips and dip to cookies to that enormous glass bowl of tropical punch we always had. I remember decades of Christmases, filled with a decorated world of twinkling lights and celebrations at school or work or with friends.
That’s what traditions are supposed to do, I guess, even the ones we practice sporadically.
Because whether it’s an Advent calendar or the annual reading of Luke 2, we can build rituals into our lives to create reminders, tangible illustrations of something we don’t want to forget, something we want to hold onto in the future. Like birthdays reminds us to express affection for our loved ones, like Thanksgiving, to give thanks, so Christmas points at memories and meaning, in the midst of a crazy festive season.
Meatballs—and cookies and pies and comforting pot roasts—are nice in that way, too. They serve as hallmarks of this season that comes every year, in which many of us will do traditional things: find time to be with family, try to think of gifts to give, talk about the greatest gift: that the Creator became creation.
And while some may argue our traditions aren’t that meaningful, as Christmas trees come from pagan religions and stockings from tales of Saint Nicholas, I like to see things another way: the truth is, I love tradition, even the irregularly practiced kind.
If traditions are valuable for what they remind you of, then what we’re reminded of is what makes the tradition. Ornaments remind you of your grandma. Christmas cards of your friends faraway.
And meatballs, of the good gifts you’ve been given, this year and every year before it, from sweet and tangy things to eat to loved ones to share it with.
Sweet & Tangy Meatballs
Between 50 and 60 meatballs
Some people call appetizer-style meatballs “barbecue,” but I think that way undersells the flavor and appeal of this version. I like eating them with some hot garlic bread or a salad, or you could make a meatball sandwich. Whatever the case, they’re hearty, tangy and, hello, hard to stop eating. You’ve been warned.
2 pounds ground beef (I used organic grass-fed ground chuck)
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (I used some spelt bread, toasted and ground in the food processor)
1 onions, minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups organic ketchup (alternative: chili sauce)
18 ounces (1.5 12-ounce jars) organic grape jelly (alternatives: red currant or apple jelly)
Combine first eight ingredients and form the meat into 50 to 60 same-sized meatballs using a rounded teaspoon for each (or hands covered with plastic gloves). Brown meatballs lightly in oil. Take the chili sauce and the jelly and boil in a saucepan.
Pour a little of the sauce into a dutch oven (or a crockpot to be set on low for 2 to 3 hours), then add some meatballs on top of that, then add some sauce, more meatballs and so on. Cover, cook over a low flame for about 3 hours, until sauce has thickened considerably. The slow cooking for several hours is key—that’s what gives transforms the sauce into a rich glaze and creates the wonderful sweet and tangy flavor.