Grandma Emma’s Swedish Meatballs

Here is another recipe from Pegi’s grandmother, Emma Ada Melrose, that she passed on to her daughter and granddaughter. Dale and Pegi brought these Swedish meatballs to a church potluck a few years ago, and I asked for the recipe. Most Scandinavian recipes are light on spices, but Grandma Emma’s doesn’t call for any at all, unless you want to call salt a spice.

Apparently Pegi’s grandmother devised a shortcut by using a can of condensed cream of celery soup rather than the more traditional milk or cream and various spices one finds in most Swedish meatball recipes. The list of ingredients for condensed cream of celery soup includes “flavorings” which suggests spices. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw that not even black pepper was in the recipe, but I followed instructions, and my meatballs were as tasty as those I remembered.

Jerri thinks that Grandma Emma probably put this recipe together in the 1950’s when almost every cook in the United States was experimenting with condensed Campbell’s soups. That statement, incidentally, includes my mother and aunts, who fed us kids dozens of dishes promoted by the Campbell Soup Company. Jerri’s Green Bean Casserole is one deriving from that time that I still love. Since Campbell’s introduced cream of celery soup in 1913, it’s possible that the recipe is even older.

The one thing I know for certain is that this is a recipe worth making once in a while. It’s extremely simple and produces Swedish meatballs just as good as most of those I have enjoyed over the years at many a lutefisk dinner. Serve the meatballs with boiled or mashed potatoes and a vegetable. If you want to be a true Wisconsinite, pass a bowl of cranberry sauce as well.


1 can condensed cream of celery soup
1/2 cup water
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
2 T minced onion
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
A little extra water


Blend the water into the condensed soup in a small bowl to make a smooth sauce. Combine a quarter cup of the sauce with the ground beef. Lightly beat an egg and mince two tablespoons of onion. Thoroughly mix the egg, onion, bread crumbs and salt with the meat.

Lightly oil a large skillet and shape the meat into balls about an inch in diameter. Brown them in batches over moderate heat, leaving room to turn the balls without breaking them. Once all the meatballs have been browned, drain any extra fat from the skillet. Return the meatballs to the skillet and add a tablespoon or two of water. Cover the skillet and simmer the meatballs about twenty minutes until they are done.

When the meatballs are fully cooked, you can cool and store them and the sauce in the refrigerator. Later you can mix the sauce with the meatballs and heat them thoroughly in a pan, casserole or microwavable bowl before serving. If you wish to serve them immediately, mix the hot meatballs with the sauce and continue simmering them for another ten or fifteen minutes.

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