Swedish meatballs are a Christmas Eve tradition. Credit: Sandy Oliver

When I was a kid growing up, Christmas Eve at our house was pretty busy time as it is still in many households. A tree to put up because we always did that on Christmas Eve, and stately red candles with two jolly Santa candles, never lighted, were decorations for the mantle. Mom put her peanut clusters and stuffed dates into the candy dish on the coffee table. We hung our stockings. Neighbors dropped by to leave presents for us and to carry away the ones we had for them. Supper was not an elaborate affair. But I do remember we had Swedish meatballs.

My mom was the child of a Swedish-born immigrant who came to this country at age 6, whose parents embraced American ways pretty quickly. But at Christmas there were Gamaldags Pepparkakor, a crisp, thin cookie with ginger, orange and molasses. Whether Gram ever made Swedish meatballs, I do not recall. Our family’s recipe came from Delia Thornhill, who lived across the road from my parents when I was a wee 2-year-old.

Now memory is a slippery thing. I remember that we had tomato soup to go with the meatballs. My sister, Sally, who lives in Somerville (and who actually seems to have inherited more of the Swedish genes than I did) does not recall tomato soup but remembers scalloped potatoes, a green veggie and Harvard beets, all of which completely escape my memory.

Never mind, Swedish meatballs are a handy item to serve for supper on Christmas Eve or for hors d’oeuvres at the holidays or any other time. I love the allspice and nutmeg in them and the creamy sauce they are smothered in. I’m not a great one for standing around frying meatballs, Swedish or any other kind, though some recipes suggest spreading them in a baking pan and popping them into the oven to brown up. The good thing about frying them is that you can harvest the browned-on bits and cooking juices, and make a rich gravy.

You can buy the hamburger and ground pork separately, or you can use a meatloaf mix often available in grocery store meat departments. You can also use ground turkey instead of pork. It is a good idea to brown the diced onion before adding it to the meat mixture. This is a classic “cook ahead and let stand” recipe, because it is even better the next day.

I hope the next few days are full of light and joy for many of you no matter how you celebrate the awesome transition from long dark nights to ever lengthening days. Best wishes to all.

Swedish Meatballs

Makes about 4-5 servings as a main dish

Olive oil

½ tablespoon butter

1 small onion, diced

¾ pound ground beef

¼ pound ground pork

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 ½ cups slightly dry bread crumbs

¾ cup warm evaporated milk or cream

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoons pepper

¼ teaspoons allspice

¼ teaspoons nutmeg

2-3 tablespoons pan drippings

2-3 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Drizzle some olive oil with the butter in a saute pan and cook the onions until they are just soft, about five minutes.

2. Put the beef, pork, eggs, crumbs and evaporated milk or cream into a medium bowl and add the onions, salt, pepper and spices. Mix thoroughly.

3. Form the mixture into balls about an inch or two in diameter, and fry over a medium heat, turning them as each side browns, until they are all done. Remove and place in a 9 x 13 pan.

4. Drain all but about two to three tablespoons of the pan drippings from the fry pan. Add two to three tablespoons of flour and cook, whisking to blend.

5. Drizzle a cup of milk, or more if needed, into the pan, whisking to make a smooth gravy and cook until it thickens, then add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Pour over the meatballs in the casserole. Hold for a day and rewarm in a 350-degree oven to serve.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...