As a child, I always requested “Cabbage and Meatballs” for my birthday dinner. It was one of the staple dishes my mother made. She learned to make the dish from my dad’s mother who was German by lineage. My grandmother’s grandparents immigrated to America from Germany and her father and mother were both of German lineage.
Actually, both of my grandmothers had German ancestry and both were good cooks, but “Cabbage and Meatballs” was a dish no doubt, made of necessity. I say that because the ingredients were all some of the most inexpensive and available ingredients my grandmother would have been able to possess.
The meatballs were make of ground beef with barley in them for texture and to help fill the stomach. The cabbage was the main ingredient of the dish; readily available from the garden and all of the ingredients were cooked in a tomato juice base; also from the garden.
So, you have some meatballs, made of nothing but ground beef and a little barley, a head of cabbage, cut in strips, cooked in tomato juice. Now, to stretch the meal, you put this soup type concoction over mashed potatoes in your bowl because potatoes were also readily available from the garden and very filling.
Recently, I thought to myself, I’ll make the meatballs the way I make other meatballs. So, I soaked my bread in milk, whipped an egg, added a chopped scallion, salt and pepper, mixed it all together, formed my rich, delicious meatballs, dropped them into the boiling tomato juice, cut up a head of cabbage, added it and an hour later was ready to enjoy.
Matthew was the first one to say anything. “These are the best Cabbage and Meatballs you’ve ever made!” I really couldn’t respond because I was spitting out a meatball into the trash. Unbelievably, rich meatballs in this basic, down to earth, “just getting by” recipe were the absolute worst mix I can ever imagine.
When you grow up tasting grandma’s recipe, don’t try to improve it with better ingredients.
If you lack what you need, use what you have
— i don’t know who said that