Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ham Balls: An Iowa Classic

This story starts off with a simple beginning, a group of friends (aka the North Iowa Bloggers) were getting together for an evening of fellowship and taste testing (something we've been known to do).  This particular evening's gathering center around the Lay's "Do Us a Flavor" Chips campaign so everyone talked about all of these cute little salads and fruit trays they were going to bring to compliment the potato chip taste test.  I thought to myself, if I am going to participate in a chip taste test I'm going to need something more than roughage, I was going to need some MEAT!  So I brought what any good ol' Iowa homecook would bring to a potluck - Ham Balls.  Little did I know I'd be bringing something very special for my friend Jeni from Jeni Eats, I'd be bringing her, her very first ham ball - a culinary classic unknown to her before that beautiful summer evening and what now has led to, dare I say, an obsession since then.

Enjoying Ham Balls - an Iowa Classic
Jeni from Jeni Eats and myself
enjoying our Iowa Ham Balls earlier this week
So fast forward over the last few months and Jeni still can't get my ham balls out of her culinary palette.  She has tried making her own version, has checked her collection of church cookbooks for recipes, and has tried her local butcher's version and a local grocery store's version, but still can't forget her first true Iowa ham ball.  So Jeni asked if she could come over to my house to see a "real Iowan" makes Iowa ham balls.  I of course said "Sure! Come on over!" and began to frantic.  See the thing is, I didn't know what recipe I used on that beautiful August night - the only thing I did remember was that I pulled them out of the freezer, threw them in a crock pot and put what was left of a bottle of bbq sauce from the refrigerator on them...  The only thing left to do, was to start from the basics, and make my own Iowa Ham Ball recipe to share with her and you!


Iowa Ham Balls

2.5# Ham Loaf
2 Eggs
1 1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 cup Milk
1 can Tomato Soup
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Vinegar
1 tsp Ground Mustard

With a food processor, grind your ham loaf into small chopped pieces (or buy ham loaf mix from local grocery store or butcher - this mix usually contains ham and ground pork, and sometimes ground beef too).  Add the eggs, graham cracker crumbs and milk.  Mix together with your hands and form fist-sized ham balls.  (If the mixture seems a little dry, you can add 1/4 cup of milk at a time, up to 1 1/2 cups of milk total.)  Place ham balls in a 9"x13" pan.  They fit nicely three across and five down.

Then mix the soup, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard til smooth.  Drizzle the glaze over the ham balls for the classic ham ball sauce.  (Or, if you're in a rush like I was this past summer - drizzle your favorite bbq sauce over them!)

Bake at 350F for 1 hour.

Yield:  13-15 ham balls

To check out a video of these Iowa Ham Balls being made, check out Jeni Eats!

These ham balls freeze well and can be warmed up in a crock pot if desired.  Ham balls are the perfect Iowa potluck treat!

Have you ever heard of ham balls?  How do you make yours?  When you think of classic foods for your homestate what comes to mind?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

19 comments:

  1. What a fun day you two had! You gotta love Iowa ham balls and thanks for sharing your famous recipe.

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  2. Thanks for the tutorial. This was one of my favorite adventures living in Iowa.

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    1. No problem. I had a great time!

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  3. Thank you for sharing! Ham balls are new for me too, and I always look forward to having them at potlucks. Now I can try my hand at them!

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    1. They are very easy! I hope you make them for your next potluck.

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  4. Hi- Saw your recipe on Tales Of A Kansas Farm Mom. It's always a good day when you learn something new.

    I must be a real "city" girl cause I never heard of Ham Loaf. I had to go over to Pinterest and find our what it was!!!

    Pinned your recipe to my board and also added to a group favorite..

    Thanks for sharing the recipe

    http://bestoflongislandandcentralflorida.blogspot.com/2015/04/simon-and-garfunkel-chicken.html

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    1. I'm glad I could introduce you to the wonderful world of Ham Balls. They must be a regional food. I just figured they were a potluck staple everything until Jeni mentioned I gave her, her first ham ball.

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  5. I've never had ham balls before (another one from Minnesota), and if like to make some. Can you please explain what the "ham loaf" in the recipe is? Is it just ground-up ham? If so, I can probably get that from a butcher, right? Thanks for your help! I'm enjoying your blog. :)

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    1. Yes, it is ground up ham or some butchers sell it as a ground ham/pork mix.

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  6. offiically making this for my freezer, for a great "crockpot dump" meal later this summer! Love it! (and you!) thanks for linking it up on our link up party! ( Country Fair Blog Party!)
    Jan

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    1. It is a perfect crockpot dump meal and perfect for potlucks. I actually kind of like them from the freezer because they are "firmer".

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  7. Love your Ham Balls! I grew up in north Dakota (home of knoephla soup) , but lived in Iowa for 18 years... now I am in North Carolina and no one here knew about these little gems. I introduced them to a neighbor and he fell in love. This dish puts grits and orka to shame! Thank you for your great website. I sure do miss the sweet corn in August.

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  8. Found your blog, as my daughter and family moved to Iowa several years ago, from Niagara Falls, NY. We were recently chatting about our Christmas menu and she said she was getting the ingredients to make "ham balls" and that my granddaughters loved them. Never heard of them, so here I am. Will be making these soon, if I can find the ham loaf.

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    1. How did the ham balls go? Our grocery store also sells a ham loaf mix (similar to how you'd buy ground pork or hamburger from your meat counter).

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  9. How interesting! I have never heard of ham balls but now I am interested too. I need to give them a try!

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    1. Yes, I had no idea they were a regional food until I met Jeni! I hope you enjoy this Iowa staple as much as we do.

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  10. I've never even had ham balls on the meal radar, Val. I might have to try this... :D

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    1. It is a great potluck dish. I love to make a double batch and then freeze the extras so I can pull them out as needed.

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