My extended family is large– my Dad has four siblings, my Mom five– and we like a good get-together.  Christmases growing up involved a great deal of time in the car, heading north to West Gardiner for Christmas Eve and down to South Portland for Christmas Day.  There are pictures and vague memories and lots of stories to remind me that I did this for years and years, running around one grandmother’s house or the other’s with cousins, sneaking extra cookies or peanut butter fudge, waiting for presents or dinner or to be allowed outside into the snow.  At some point, winter in Maine became a factor, with snowstorms or icy roads that forced my parents to change plans at the last minute, and at another point, shuttling four cranky children around the state became a factor and we started spending Christmas Eve at home.  I didn’t really mind.  We always saw my West Gardiner grandparents a week or a few weeks beforehand for a big holiday dinner and a gift exchange.  Being home meant a buffet of once-a-year treats (shrimp cocktail, sweet & sour meatballs, chips & dip) and watching movies in our p.j.s before writing letters to Santa and hanging our stockings.  It was really nice to sleep in my own bed and not spend hours in the car on Christmas Eve.  I was young enough not to think about what I was missing.

I left Maine thirteen years ago and worked retail for years in Seattle, so I never went home for Christmas with my family.  It must have been right around the time I left that Mom realized how much she missed the grand Christmas Eve celebration with her family and started to go again each year, now choosing to spend the night in West Gardiner and leave for South Portland from there.  Doing so cut out one significant leg of the journey without sacrificing time with either side of the family.  When I called my parents on Christmas Day, the stories of how many people came for the traditional Christmas Eve smorgasbord made me more homesick than just about anything: most or all of my aunts and uncles, dozens of cousins, neighbors, spouses, new generations of children and assorted friends of the family, all together.  For some in my generation, it was the only time they were home all year.  I think that’s what bothered me the most: I was angry that my job prevented me from taking the time off to go home.  (Even though, rationally, I much prefer Maine in August than cold, snowy December.)  I was disappointed in myself for being jealous that my family was together when it had been my own choice to move to Washington.

Over the years, my husband and I made our own traditions, often with our Seattle friends who are like family.  I am not jealous of the cousins who head home to be with their parents, just happy for them!  I smile when I think of everyone crowded into the steamy farmhouse kitchen, checking out the smorgasbord and waiting for some rye bread, cabbage rolls, rutmousse, lobster Newberg and Swedish meatballs.  The smell and taste of Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes will forever equal Christmas Eve to me.  I was so excited to have the opportunity to make meatballs with my sister last month to commemorate our Nana’s birthday; to me, that meal was also a celebration of being with family for the holidays.  I hope that everyone at Gramp’s house tomorrow night will enjoy Aunt Elaine’s Swedish meatballs and realize how lucky they are to be part of such a remarkable family, together for Christmas.

Swedish Meatballs

  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 c. whole milk or cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper (white if you have it)
  • 2 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
For gravy:
  • reserved pan drippings
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. cold water
  • 1/2 c. cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Over medium heat, saute the onions in butter until translucent; set aside to cool slightly.  In a large bowl, soak the breadcrumbs in milk/cream for 5 mins.; add water, eggs, onions, allspice & pepper and mix well.  Add meats and mix thoroughly.  Form small 1″ meatballs (you can use a cookie scoop or your hands) and place close together on a baking sheet.  Bake for 20 mins.  Serve hot or cold.

To make gravy: use pan drippings, adding water as necessary until you have 2 cups of liquid.  Mix cornstarch into cold water; add this slurry to pan drippings in a large saucepan.  Heat until slightly thickened; add cooked meatballs.  Just before serving, add cream and mix through.

If you ask me, Swedish meatballs should always be served with mashed potatoes. 🙂