Monday, October 21, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Swedish Meatballs

In 1905, Olaf and Anna Nilson left Sweden for a new life in western Canada. From Montreal, they rode the train across the country to Melfort, Sask. Don't imagine an upholstered sleeping car – they travelled in a cattle car with no seats!

They took a homestead near Kinistino. At first, they lived in an abandoned sod house. The roof leaked and the floor was bare earth. Their first cow died. The nearest store was more than five miles' walk, where they exchanged their extra butter and eggs for groceries.

Other than a few staples such as flour and baking soda, they produced all their own food. They stored vegetables in a root cellar (so they wouldn't freeze in winter) and canned meat in sealer jars (so it would keep in summer). Meat consisted of their own chickens, pigs and cattle. The Nilson family history notes, "Mother stated many times that, if money had been available, they would have returned to Sweden." Well, they stayed.

Many of their favourite Swedish foods, such as shrimp and herring, were rare on the Canadians plains, but one dish that did travel well was Swedish meatballs. This recipe was given to me by Olaf and Anna's granddaughter, Joan Thompson of Saskatoon, who got the recipe from her mother, Myrtle. In the 2006 Canadian census, 33,000 people in Saskatchewan claimed Swedish ancestry. No doubt, many of them are still fond of Swedish meatballs.

Swedish Meatballs
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 small potato, peeled and grated
1 small onion, grated
1/2 tst salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp cream
1 egg
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp butter or oil

Mix everything but the last ingredient. Stir vigorously until the meat is smooth and fluffy (I used an electric mixer). With damp hands, form into small balls. Heat butter or oil in a skillet. Fry the meatballs, turning to brown all sides. Shaking the skillet helps to keep the meatballs round.

Depending on the size of the skillet, it may be cooked in two batches. Add additional butter/oil if needed. Serve with lingonberry sauce (aka low bush cranberry jelly), boiled potatoes and cooked vegetables.

Lingonberry Sauce
In Saskatchewan, lingonberries are known as low bush cranberries. They grow wild in the parkland and north of the province.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen low-bush cranberries
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice

Heat sugar and water in a saucepan to a bubbling simmer, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved, add the berries and orange juice. Simmer. As the berries heat, they will pop and release their juices. You can help by pressing them with a fork. Boil lightly until it is jammy, but not too jammy, as it will thicken further as it cools.

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This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

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