A D V E R T I S E M E N T


Author Topic: Our Meatball Tradition  (Read 7936 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Our Meatball Tradition
« on: December 04, 2016, 12:22:58 PM »
It may take me a couple sittings to finish this. If you aren't interested in the backstory, go to second post. If you are going to be unhappy there is no recipe here, stop reading now.

I should start by saying I have nothing against Christmas (or any other) cookies. I love all kinds, in fact, but receiving a large amount of cookies one particular night more than 15 years ago gave me the idea that none of our friends really needed more cookies from my wife and me. Prior to that, we participated with neighbors and other friends exchanging cookies and other baked goods throughout the second half of December. As it probably happens everywhere, various friends became known for making certain things well. Although (we then thought ha ha ha) making ours was a big job and a little stressful, we certainly enjoyed giving and receiving.

I say more than 15 years ago, but I don't remember exactly when our new family tradition began. It was sometime 3 trucks and snowplows ago. Our three kids were young. We have lived in our current house and neighborhood for 25 years and for longer than that I have been plowing snow for friends and neighbors as needed and as I have been able. Typically, now, I do between 15 and 20 when I go out. Years ago I used to start with families that were expecting a baby and may need to get out - there were always a few in here. Often I would make a couple passes on our sometimes overlooked streets so fire trucks and ambulances could get in, if needed. Had a cop tell me once he ought to give me a ticket for plowing the roads. I told him OK, but if I hadn't plowed this one you would not have been able to get in here to give me a ticket. He let me go. All these years later, now I start with people who have recently had surgery, or chemo, or have been widowed. The point I am trying to get to is that I do not accept money from people for plowing and many of them have sometimes been left wanting to do something for me. Some have sent wine or nice cigars but most know I do not drink and quit smoking almost 15 years ago. A couple have sent very nice restaurant gift certificates. Happily, most take my word for it that I don't need or expect anything. So, I don't know how this happened.

I think it was early January -  sometime well after the Christmas cookie season - I came home from plowing a little after 10:00 one night. It was a bad night of low visibility and lots of blowing and drifting, which sometimes means when you finish plowing you start again. School had already been cancelled for the next day so I took that as a sign that I should knock off for the night, having been out in it nearly 5 hours. Kids everywhere get excited about snow days. It's like a triple-double when they find out the night before. On this particular one, many evidently made cookies with their moms (or dads, I suppose). Mine did and it was a great looking plate of two dozen of my favorites I came home to. Coincidentally, several neighbors brought what turned out to be 13 dozen more cookies, for a household total of 15 dozen, as thanks for plowing them. All at once. Same night! Just after Christmas cookie season.  :-D

Over the next 10-11 months I came up with the idea of giving people something they may not get from anyone else next Christmas. Something to share a little bit of our heritage with others and maybe save them some work one night during the Christmas season. It was fairly easy to decide on meatballs but somewhat more difficult to convince my wife. She thought I was crazy - to an embarrassing extent - something she had little trouble expressing  ;D Still, I pushed on "let's just make 100 and see how it goes over." 100 was more than twice as many as we had ever made before. "We'll make some sauce and peppers and make up the packages. Nobody needs another cookie." She reluctantly agreed, or did not protest strongly enough - I'm not sure - but still thought we needed to make cookies and loaves of poppyseed bread that were a specialty of hers. As we began delivering meatballs that first night my confidence in the soundness of this idea began to wane. We stopped short of apologizing for bringing meatballs, unsolicited, but it took a little explaining to some of our friends. We got thanks and nervous smiles. Some asked what to do with them or if they were cooked. Not many days later we got calls and cards thanking us, telling us how and how much they had enjoyed them. A few told us how that pan of meatballs had saved them making a full dinner after a busy day, or gave them something easy to serve while they had family in from out of town.

Though we were not sure yet if it was because we were crazy or popular, over the winter we heard from more people than we had originally delivered to how someone they knew had received them and loved them. Just after Thanksgiving the next year a funny thing happened - and several times. People who had received them last year began explaining to us what their holiday plans were: when they would be in town and when they would be gone. They hoped they would be on the list and that we woud save (freeze) them some if we would be making them while they were away. We had already decided to broaden the list by a lot. I think we made about 18 packages of 10 and kept a couple for ourselves. That was the last time it was feasible to by tomato product at the grocery store, though we still got the meat there.

The following year our next door neighbors, who had 4 kids, told us the three boys got in a fist fight over the meatballs. It was then I knew we had to keep going with the idea (and give them a larger package).


As the batch size has grown, the process has had to evolve to remain practical and safe. We no longer make the mix in our home kitchen. I've developed a friendship with a butcher shop where the guys are somewhat fascinated about the whole thing and kindly let me grind and mix everything there. Since at least 2007 we have made between 550-700 meatballs for friends every year. Our first batch every year begins with 54 # of meat, which make just over 76 # of mix. Often we have had to make another short batch to supplement. It take almost exactly double the weight of the meatball mix in tomato product to make enough sauce. Green and red bell peppers: we start with 40, clean, cut, and fry them as garnish and always have to go get more.

We are beginning to plan for our 2016 batch now. Posted below are pictures and descriptions of the process we currently use. i wish I had a picture of some finished regular size packages. I will try to remember to take some this year.
-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2016, 12:34:42 PM »
The picture above is hot meatballs in hot sauce. We were able to safely make and cool that many down at home back then (Dec 2000). When our batch size grew to its current size (just over 550 meatballs), I spent a really nervous unseasonably warm December night trying to cool down hundreds of meatballs and gallons of sauce without being able to count on cold outdoor temperatures to help us. Yes, there were years we used a table on the deck in below freezing weather to help us cool things down. I am never going through that again. Fortunately, I came up with the idea of cooking the sauce a day or two before starting the meatballs, cooling it down, and we now place warm meatballs out of the oven in cold sauce. Problem solved. Then we package them in smaller containers that we have no problem keeping cold in our two refrigerators.

Here is the sauce prep for first batch:
-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2016, 12:43:21 PM »
Eventually we decided it would be good to have stainless hotel pans rather than the heavy foil ones. We bought a couple every year until we had enough. We did not buy the stainless lids that first year and learned an important lesson. As I learned on the phone with someone from Reynolds (foil company) by using a stainless pan, aluminum foil to cover, and acid food in between that we essentially made a battery. Notice the pitting in the aluminum foil. I wish I had a better picture (but am unwilling to recreate the event0 because 20%-25% of the foil on some pans was eaten away, some of it dropping into the pans. We skimmed the ones that were not bad, after being assured by Reynolds it would be fine, and kept only the meatballs and made more sauce for the worst pans. What a lesson. Now we use stainless lids on stainless pans and foil lids on foil pans.
-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2016, 12:48:09 PM »
This is my last post until later today as we want to get our Christmas tree and have dinner plans with my parents. This is the step before meat; preparing the seasoning and limited veg for the meat mix. Not all of these photos are from the same year but it is what I have and the process is the same every year now. I wish I had a picture of what 1 1/2 cups black peppercorns looks like in a blender grinding pepper :) These are steps done at home before going to the butcher shop. Not shown are things like breadcrumbs and tomato paste, which are opened and added just before grinding the meat.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2016, 12:51:29 PM by foreplease »
-Tony

Online jkb

  • Supporting Member
  • *
  • Posts: 6194
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2016, 01:03:38 PM »
Quote
If you are going to be unhappy there is no recipe here, stop reading now.

Thanks for the heads up.
John

A D V E R T I S E M E N T


Offline sodface

  • Registered User
  • Posts: 942
  • Location: Charleston SC
  • I Love Pizza!
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2016, 01:45:25 PM »
Great story and write up!  Waiting for the next installment...
Carl

Offline Jackitup

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 13116
  • Age: 64
  • Location: Hastings, MN
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2016, 02:12:50 PM »
Nice story Tony!

jon
Jon

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”            -Mark Twain

If you don't think you're getting what you should out of life.....maybe you're getting what you deserve       -the Root Beer Lady

Offline TXCraig1

  • Supporting Member
  • *
  • Posts: 26712
  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Pizza is not bread.
    • Craig's Neapolitan Garage
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2016, 02:36:44 PM »
If you are going to be unhappy there is no recipe here, stop reading now.

I have to say that I don't understand the thought process behind keeping a recipe secret. If there is anything that should be shared, it's food.
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, baker's yeast when we must, but always great pizza."  
Craig's Neapolitan Garage

Offline Jackie Tran

  • Supporting Member
  • *
  • Posts: 8569
  • Location: Albuquerque NM
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2016, 02:53:00 PM »
I have to say that I don't understand the thought process behind keeping a recipe secret. If there is anything that should be shared, it's food.

I wholeheartedely agree.  If food makes us and others happy and we can share the happiness, then we should. 

Having said that, this is a wonderful story.  Thanks for sharing.

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2016, 03:32:52 PM »
I haven't said I will keep it a secret or won't share. Just yesterday I offered help on a meatball recipe in another thread that would have made his exactly like mine. For now it is the story/tradition. I have purposely named the photos such that every ingredient is shown, or will be by the time I post the rest of the photos. That said, how many people is the recipe for this size batch going to help? It's more about ratios than precise amounts of one thing or another.

It can easily be scaled down to a batch of 3# meat, since it it 2:1 beef to pork. Any size batch is possible, of course, but I do not have it written that way. Tonight I will have time to post the other photos, which I prepared here last night.
-Tony

A D V E R T I S E M E N T


Offline Jackie Tran

  • Supporting Member
  • *
  • Posts: 8569
  • Location: Albuquerque NM
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2016, 03:56:43 PM »
I'm always on the look out to improve upon the dishes I can make well.  I do have a meatball recipe that I love.   If you decide to share your recipe, I'll give it a try. 

I did enjoy the story though.  I liked the approach and risk you took with the wife especially when it comes to Holiday treats.  I also liked that it's taken off and how so many ppl look forward to your Holiday meatball treat. 

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2016, 08:42:07 PM »
I pack the above prepped ingredients in a couple boxes take them to the butcher shop about 20 miles away. They have 36# beef chuck and 18# pork should ready for me. Once they saw the boxes of non-meat ingredients, after inviting me to do this in the back of their shop the first time around 2007, they made a point of telling me several times this is the only time they have ever let anyone run eggs, tomato paste, breadcrumbs, cheese, etc through any of their grinders. They have been great to work with though. It only take an hour or less to put everything together, clean up after myself, and head home with several bags of mix ready to be rolled. They always kindly offer to let me take a couple of their gray tubs home but they do not fit in my refrigerators.

-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #12 on: December 04, 2016, 08:51:35 PM »
We still weigh each one, 2.2 oz. Every year my wife asks if I still want to weigh every one. I know what the right answer is but I say "yes" anyway.  ;D I like this size best AND if we get sloppy and they run oversize they do not fit in our final packaging well at all.
-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #13 on: December 04, 2016, 09:08:55 PM »
As you can see, not much grease or water has accumulated on the pan. I think of this as the ideal combination of breadcrumbs ( 9 1/2 #) and meat for the type we use (beef/pork shoulder). Baking temperature and time play a role, I'm sure.

Most of them get packaged 10 to a container, 3 pieces of fried pepper, and as much sauce as it will hold. I don't have a picture of one with a lid and label but plan to take more pictures this year. Altogether we make and deliver 40-45 packages like this and a few like the larger ones below.

-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #14 on: December 04, 2016, 09:25:14 PM »
The most important part of all of this is that my wife and I enjoy making these together. We greatly miss having our kids here to help but they remain very interested in the project. The best part is when one of them comes home now they bring a spouse (to help). In the last (at least) 15 years we have only not done this once, the year my daughter got married on 12/21, which is usually one of our bake or delivery days  ;D

FWIW, our kitchen looks far messier for a few days in December than any of these photos have shown!



In 2010, I had an interest in developing several convenience foods for sale locally only. It was something I had thought about on and off for a couple years and saw throughout my life having grown up in a frozen food company family. A very nice guy and now good friend made his restaurant's kitchen and customers available to me with nearly no questions or hesitation. I learned or discovered what I wanted to know after about 15 months of making things a couple nights a week and a couple days a month and decided not to pursue it to the next level, which would have been buying a large refrigerated case (and possibly a frozen one). In the interim, he paid me for everything I made and his customers ate it, often with compliments, while giving me a chance to experiment freely. I made many soups, all of his deserts, and several other main dishes I thought or hoped people would eventually like to take home and heat up. It was never my wish or goal to cook for/in a restaurant yet I was fortunate this friend let me figure it out in my own time in his facility. As I said, in the end I decided not take the risk of continuing to the next level. I am pretty sure now it would not have worked out or at least not made money. We had a hell of a good time with the meatballs though! In the first 12 months, between catering orders and sandwich sales in his place, i made 5,000 of these  ;D plus our Christmas batch here at home.

He put this sign out front for about a month not long after I began making them there. When I left, I gave him the recipe for the sauce and meatballs, with my thanks and compliments.



« Last Edit: December 04, 2016, 10:56:55 PM by foreplease »
-Tony

A D V E R T I S E M E N T


Offline parallei

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 2777
  • Location: Denver, CO
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #15 on: December 04, 2016, 10:10:23 PM »
And here I thought I was heroic cranking out four or five dozen biscotti to pass out to friends!  Even then, I try to schedule drop-offs so I can cadge a drink/glass of wine. ;D

Good work....

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #16 on: December 04, 2016, 10:26:11 PM »
And here I thought I was heroic cranking out four or five dozen biscotti to pass out to friends!  Even then, I try to schedule drop-offs so I can cadge a drink/glass of wine. ;D

Good work....

You are and I'd love to see photos or hear more about it. Thank you, too.
-Tony

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #17 on: December 04, 2016, 11:29:59 PM »
I should say that our recipe began with one my Aunt Anne made up and used while taking care of 7 kids and a husband. Two weeks ago i was privileged to visit her, now age 88,  and several other relatives in West Virginia. We have made many changes but the original idea came from her. Our sauce is still a lot like hers. The most surprising thing to me when we began making it was how much tomato juice went into her sauce. Soon it will be time to start planning and shopping for this year's batch. Time seems tight with the other things we will be doing but we are looking forward to the smells, the smiles and brief visits we will have as we deliver them.

Along the way, sometime 3-4 years ago I tried what turned out to be an incredibly awful tasting idea. To this day I do not know why it failed to work as expected, but it failed and I do not need to try it again. It was born of laziness, which was probably strike 1. I thought with all this great mix we are knocking out, why not stuff it in sausage casing, roast it off and save a lot of time and hand work rolling meatballs. I had a butcher stuff 10# for me. We cooked it to a nice brown outside and a pink moist interior. God, it was awful. Something happened with that tiny amount of garlic we use (1.6 oz in 54# meat). Within a couple hours of being put in casing the garlic began to fester. I've had other high garlic meats and did not love them, but I was able to eat them. There was no way anybody wanted to eat more than 2 bites of the "meatball sausage' I came up with. Another lesson learned!


In the next couple days I will put together some sort of accurate home kitchen sized batch recipe. The ingredients are all shown or mentioned above. It will make about 30 meatballs and a good sized pot of sauce. For those that commented on the nobility of sharing food (via recipes), I respect what you said but urge you to keep in mind this whole topic was about sharing food - and it has been popular and appreciatively received over a large test audience of our friends over many years. I think the detail to which I have shown and described what we do can take the average person closer to their own meatball Nirvana than a simple recipe (but I will provide it). It's not an exact science yet I understand you can't hand somebody 54# of raw meat and simply say "season to taste" and hope it works out. If you make ours, I encourage you to make them once, then change them to be more like you prefer, then think of them as your own. That is more or less what we did ourselves.

There are many capable and experienced - and resourceful - people on this forum. I do not really believe there are many things at all i can do better than many of you. Although we have this batch recipe dialed in for what we and our friends like, and what we can sensibly and safely handle, your guesses for your tastes will far outperform mine.

Thank you for your interest.
-Tony

Online jkb

  • Supporting Member
  • *
  • Posts: 6194
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #18 on: December 05, 2016, 02:03:58 AM »
Quote
For those that commented on the nobility of sharing food (via recipes), I respect what you said but urge you to keep in mind this whole topic was about sharing food - and it has been popular and appreciatively received over a large test audience of our friends over many years

I hope you didn't take my comment above the wrong way.  It's a great story.  You saved me from reading it over and over trying to find the recipe.  I expect a large turnout at your funeral.
John

Offline foreplease

  • Lifetime Member
  • *
  • Posts: 5897
  • Age: 60
  • Location: St. Joseph, MI
Re: Our Meatball Tradition
« Reply #19 on: December 05, 2016, 08:39:13 AM »
I hope you didn't take my comment above the wrong way.  It's a great story.  You saved me from reading it over and over trying to find the recipe.  I expect a large turnout at your funeral.

Thank you. I wasn't sure what to make of it as the first comment but did not leap to any negative conclusion. In the end, the turnout at any of our funerals will depend on the weather  :-D
-Tony

A D V E R T I S E M E N T