Isn’t it funny how foods can trigger memories? Lots of things I make can do that but the ones that always surprise me are the ones I have when I am making my Dziadzia’s meatballs in mushroom gravy (Cream of Mushroom Soup). It’s not the fact that I have the memory, it’s that memory is so clear, like it was only a few years ago, not 50 years ago. And it’s not just a “oh, I learned how to make these from dziadzia” kind of memory.
Every time I make Dziadzia’s meatballs I am transported back to the house on Mercier St. You walk into the kitchen from the dinning room and the little walk in pantry is on the right, the even tinier bathroom on the left. The kitchen is so small that the table has to be pushed up against the wall on your left right after the bathroom door, if you sit in the first chair you get hit when the bathroom door opens….you see, the bathroom is so small the door opens out, not in.
Dziadzia always sits in the chair opposite that first chair, his chair sits perfectly in the center of the window that overlooks the trellis bench that you go through to get into the backyard, the sink and counter are behind dziadzia, next to the counter is the clothes dryer, next to that a portable cabinet then the door out to the little porch that leads out into the yard. On the far wall is the refrigerator, tuck to the right of the fridge is a door that leads up to the 2nd floor.
The stove is across from the table and right next to the pantry doorway. I think the best way to describe the kitchen is that it is almost shaped like a small “h” inside a square. Maybe not exactly, but pretty close if I had to try to give an example. If you’re cooking in the kitchen and someone is sitting in that outside chair no one can get through. It’s a small kitchen, but it’s cozy and filled with love which pours out into the meals that are made there.
As hard as I try, I cannot recall my busia making these meatballs. Busia always cooked, she was a good cook, but it’s my dziadzia who made the meatballs and it was always the same, meatballs in Cream of Mushroom soup with mashed potatoes and peas. It never changed, there were never noodles or rice in place of mashed potatoes nor did corn or green beans appear to replace the peas.
And there was always bread, I would tell you bread and butter but it wasn’t butter, it was oleo. You needed the bread, white bread, Wonder Bread with the polka dots on the package, so you could sop up the gravy. No substitutions here either, it was white bread, not hot biscuits out of the oven.
The meatballs are huge, not you’re a little bigger than a cocktail meatball.” They are more like the size of a small hamburger than a meatball, bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball. If you use an ice cream scooper to shape them……you’re on the right track. You only need a couple to fill you up. I make my meatballs the exact same way dziadzia did and I always serve them with mashed potatoes, peas and white bread, my only deviation is that I use “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”
I have been making “dziadzia’s meatballs” on my own since I was 18. It was the first dinner I made when my ex-husband and I returned from our honeymoon. We were temporarily staying in the flat upstairs from my great-grandmother, Two-Car-Busia, eventually I am sure you’ll hear about Two-Car Busia, but for now it’s meatballs, anyway…… our apartment wasn’t ready so we lived in the flat upstairs for a few weeks and I made this exact dinner on a two burner hot plate, with mashed potatoes and peas!!
This is genuine comfort food for me, it transports me back to my childhood as if it were only yesterday and each time I am in that tiny kitchen on Mercier St., dziadzia is at the stove in his muscle man white t-shirt making “dziadzia meatballs.” Miss you dziadzia, you are always in our hearts.
DZIADZIA’S MEATBALLS W/MUSHROOM SOUP GRAVY
1.5 lbs Ground Round
1 Small onion – chopped
1-2 tbsp. Worcester Sauce
1/2 cup Bread crumbs (I used Italian)
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 can Milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil or Crisco for browning meatballs
Mix hamburger with chopped onion, worcester sauce, egg and bread crumbs
Form meatballs – Use an ice cream scooper to get really big round meatballs
Heat oil or Crisco
Carefully add meatballs to hot oil/Crisco
When browned – remove from oil/Crisco
Place on plate with paper towel to absorb grease
In a bowl, mix soup and milk
Return meatballs to pan
Pour soup/milk mixture over meatballs
Bring to a boil
Cook on medium/low heat for approximately 45 minutes
Serve with mashed potatoes – peas – white bread and butter