What Do You Mean, "WHAT'S A HAM BALL?"

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All my life I've thought everyone had ham balls at Easter. That is, until this week, when I casually mentioned to my co-workers my need to pick up eight pounds of chopped ham so my husband could make his most-coveted holiday recipe for my extended family. This is odd? Other people don't know what ham balls are?

men making hamballs

Credit Image: Dennis Yang on Flickr

Photographic evidence of other people making ham balls

Since my husband was at work, I poked around our cookbook collection looking for his recipe. I didn't find his, but I looked where I thought I might strike gold: The Pot 'O Gold Cookbook compiled by the St. Patrick Altar Society in Imogene, Iowa, in 1997. Who doesn't love a church cookbook that starts off like this?

Blessings be upon the cook
who seeing buys this little book
And buying, tries and tastes its wares,
And tasting, throws away her cares;
And carefree, tells her neighbor cook
to get the POT O'GOLD cookbook!

And yes, there were ham ball recipes. (Denise thinks ham balls might be an Iowan thing. I have no idea, but since all my Iowan relatives on both sides make ham balls, I think she might be right. I found four ham ball recipes, four ham loaf recipes (including Party Pineapple Ham Loaf from Gertrude McGargill), one recipe for ham cups and one recipe for asparagus ham rolls (for when you really want to bring the funk).

What's the difference, you may ask? Some of the loafs have pineapples on them. Some use pineapples as a glaze. Some of them seem to be all fuck it, just throw the pineapple in with the rest! Ham loaf is not for the faint of heart. The Party Pineapple Ham Loaf calls for 12-16 slices of pineapple and a half cup of pineapple juice. (And you just try finding fresh pineapple at the four-aisle small-town grocery store in March or April. That is why this shit calls for PLANNING.)

While ham loaf is hot for pineapple, ham balls are more about the fruitless tang, unless you want to get technical and call a tomato a fruit. (Which it is. Well, a berry. Whatevs.) Imagine ham meatballs with a glaze. I called my husband to ask him where he kept his ham ball recipe, and he got totally cagey about it. There was a long pause, and finally I asked him if he were sensitive about his ham balls. He admitted he doesn't really use a recipe and that my mother had just asked him for it and he probably should write it down, after all. He emailed it to me this afternoon. I didn't edit it at all. You're welcome.


Ham Balls

Oven at 350 degrees.

Usually requires at least 2-3 lbs of ground meat. Whatever combination you want to do is up to the chef, but the bulk of it should be ground ham. (You can also use ground pork, ground pork sausage, and ground beef. I’ve not tried ground turkey and frankly, that is just stupid and offensive to swine globally. You are already eating ham, it's lean enough.)

2-3 lbs of good lean ground ham. Don’t buy cheap lean ground ham, get good stuff.
½ - ¾ lb of ground pork sausage – not spicy – the fat will help keep the ham balls moist and gives the ham balls an edge.
1-2 eggs (I usually use 1 full egg and 1 egg yolk – screw the other white, too healthy)
1 – 1 ¼ Cups of ground graham cracker. As ground as you would do for a graham cracker crust or better. It’s purely for the starch, not a texture builder.
Salt/Pepper/lots of garlic.

Combine everything in an extra large bowl. The texture should be dense and sticky when finished. Now toss in a little more garlic and give it one more mix.

Roll into balls about 2” diameter. Bake in a roasting pan for 60-80 min. (Feel free to also test internal temp to something like 160-180 degrees) Very important to turn the balls a couple of times to keep them from flattening out on one side.

Variation: I’ve seen people sear them in a pan with a small amount of olive oil to sort of crisp the sides before roasting. Also, very delicious.

Sauce: This is by taste, not to be taken literally.

1 can of tomato sauce (can also use condensed tomato soup)
¼ - ½ cup of cider vinegar
1 – 1 ¼ cups of brown sugar packed
1 tsp or better of mustard powder
One dab of Worcester sauce
Tsp of lemon juice
More garlic
Maybe even a tsp of Heinz 57 if it needs some zing

You are going for a red/brown mixture that is very tangy. The more tang the better.

Variations: add a dab of green hot sauce. My grandmother would add the juice from the roasting pan to this mixture and then thicken with more brown sugar. Created a very smokey/tangy glaze.

Should be relatively smooth like a glaze. Not thick like maple syrup, but will be thicker than water. Smooth out any lumps.

I like to add some of this to the ham balls as a drizzle for the last 20 min of baking. Keep the bulk on the side for those who don’t like the balls glazed. Make some of each?


I don't know about you, but I know a lot of people who don't like their balls glazed, just sayin'.

Have you ever had ham balls? I am daring Julie Ross Godar to make these for her Easter celebration.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com. Find more at www.ritaarens.com.

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