Thursday, March 03, 2011

Nanna's Recipe

Recipes come down in the family and take on the air of legend. In ours, one of the big ones was Nanna's Swedish Meatballs. Nanna was entirely Swedish, born Lovisa Josefina Nordstrom. But this was an immigrant family that stressed becoming assimilated, and she became Louise pretty quickly, even to her sisters.

My younger brother learned to do division by counting the Swedish meatballs in the pan and figuring out how many he would get.

It was Nanna's Recipe, and all the grandchildren have it. It aroused even greater interest over the last decade, when my brother discovered another recipe, clearly in her hand, that was slightly different and including nutmeg. This, he had noted, had excited loud huzzahs from his guests when he prepared it. We speculated whether the nutmeg was omitted from the Lutheran cookbook by accident, or whether she had traded the honor of everyone admiring her recipe for the honor of having a secret weapon that made hers just a little bit better when people came over. (I have since seen recipes that include allspice instead of nutmeg, which strikes me as a reasonable variation if you like to live that dangerously.)

Yes, our Nanna might have been capable of such a thing. So was yours.

I had noticed, but not partaken of the Swedish meatballs at IKEA or in the supermarket, all of which have the sour cream sauce as well. That's not what we were used to. Those were the other kind of Swedish meatballs, those sauced meatballs. Not proper meatballs, really. Though I do like sour cream sauces...

I was curious what the other sort of Swedish meatball was like, so I went looking for a recipe online. I settled on one that looked doable and gave it a whirl.

It is far superior to my grandmother's recipe. Not even close. I am never making Nanna's Swedish Meatballs again, even though this recipe takes over an hour and a half. I am betting that more and more old family recipes are going to bite the dust in the next generation.

Notes on preparation: I always make a half recipe. All that nonsense about making a roux - and why do they invariably call it a classic roux? - I don't much bother. Thicken the pan drippings with flour, stir in the hot beef stock, and it's fine. That "color of coffee with cream" idea takes another half hour of constant attention for little added benefit. Also, I've been reducing the black pepper each time I make it. Tonight it was a half of what the (halved) recipe calls for, and that was still too much. Mincing/grating/blending the onion very fine is key.


Donna B. said...

If I ever let a roux get the color shown in that link, I'd consider it burnt, especially if it was one made with butter. Maybe it's just my monitor.

Texan99 said...

I think the color of the roux is important if you like that characteristic burnt flavor, as many Cajuns do, including my excellent cook of a husband. I confess that personally I can do without it, and so I'd never bother to take a roux to the dark stage.

On the other hand, I read somewhere that if you brown your butter first, your cakes and cookies will be a million times better, and it's really true. Caramelization is a wonderful thing in the taste world. Mario Batali always stresses that home cooks rarely take the time to develop good caramelization flavors when they brown meat, and Mario is the Man on whose every word I dote.

But there's caramelization and there's too-dark brown.