I find this shocking and nearly impossible to believe, but there are some people out there who have never had a ham ball. Chances are good those people are not from Iowa. There are a few schools of thought when it comes to ham balls, and they're all about the meat mixture. Some people mix ground ham and ground pork together as the base. But those of us who do it the right way also add ground beef. It mellows the flavor, and makes it less salty. Believe me, it's the way to go.
I had never made ham balls before until a few weeks ago. It's one of the many dishes that my mom makes so perfectly that I don't even bother trying. It's just better when she does it, so I'll just let her do it! She uses my Aunt Thelma's recipe, so that's what I used, too. It's perfect. In fact, her ham balls are probably my favorite food ever. EVER.
My mom only makes ham balls on special occasions or holidays, because she has always ground her own meat, and frankly, that's a TON of work. These days, most butcher shops and grocery stores carry a ham loaf mix. Ask them about it. I asked at one local grocery store and found their mix was just ham and pork. No. But at my favorite butcher shop, they have a mix that is ham, pork, and beef, and guess what? It was $1 a pound less than the grocery store mix. I bought 10 pounds, cooked 6, and froze 4. Score. I told my mom about the butcher shop find, and just yesterday she and my dad drove over there and she bought some! Yay for more ham balls!
Traditional ham balls are about 1/2 cup, or a little smaller than a baseball. I made a pan of these for my family, but I also made a bunch of bite-sized ham balls for my oldest son, Jake, to take to a potluck for the cast and crew of the high school play, Aladdin, where he put on a smashing performance as Razoul. And as much as I consider myself a ham ball traditionalist, I have to admit I kind of liked the mini size better. They're easier to eat, and you get more sauce per square inch of ham ball. I've done the math.
So here's the ham ball recipe. Enjoy this scrumptious taste of Iowa! As my friend Sara Hatcher-Hobart says, "They're amazeballs!"
6 pounds ham loaf mix (2 pounds each ground beef, ground pork, and ground ham, combined)
2 cups milk
3 cups graham cracker crumbs (don't cheat and use regular cracker crumbs or bread crumbs)
2 cans (10.75 oz. each) tomato soup, undiluted
3/4 cup vinegar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. mustard
Combine meatball ingredients, form into meatballs, and place in a baking dish. (This will take 2 or 3 baking dishes.) In a separate bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients. Pour over meatballs. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 1 hour or until meat is cooked through. Spoon sauce over meatballs several times while baking. Transfer to a slow cooker to keep warm if you're taking them to a get-together or just want to snack on them all day.