Mrs. Heins’ Barley Hot Dish

A few years ago I bought a used cookbook published in 1962 by the Ladies Aid of the Eidskog Church in Ortonville, Minnesota. Ortonville is a small city in western Minnesota founded by Cornelius Knute Orton and incorporated in 1881. Four years later, Scandinavian immigrants in the area began worshipping together in their new church. Services were conducted in Norwegian until 1942.

Like many churches in rural areas, Eidskog experienced shrinking membership in the past few decades. Finally, after 130 years of serving their congregants and community, the church was forced to close. Hoping that the church furnishings could continue to be used by another congregation, Eidskog advertised in The Lutheran that it was closing and wanted to contribute items to any interested church.

The ad caught the eye of Dick Jackson, a member of a new congregation in River Falls, Wisconsin, that was planning a church building. Jackson and his wife met with people from Eidskog and recommended that Hope Lutheran Church accept the generous gift offered by the Eidskog congregation. The River Falls Journal published the story on November 11, 2015. Today, Hope Lutheran is a vibrant congregation with kitchen equipment and even the pews from the church built 130 years ago by those immigrants on the prairie.

I treasure the cookbook put together by the Ladies Aid of that old church. There are eighteen sections in the book, each headed by a verse from the Bible. The last two sections are not recipes but rather useful notes for housewives. “Stain Removal” includes a tip for removing cod liver oil stains, which brought back a memory of dodging the spoon when Mom dosed us with that nasty stuff from the brown bottle. “Household Hints” is organized as a series of “Did you know” questions, and I may test the one suggesting “That hamburger fried in ketchup gives it a barbecue flavor.”

Many of the recipes remind me of potlucks of long ago, and not all of the memories are pleasant. For example, there are seventeen recipes for salads made with Jello or gelatin including the infamous Jello Carrot Salad. However, even the salad section has lots of recipes I would like to try, and as might be expected in a Lutheran Ladies Aid cookbook, the hot dish section is loaded with intriguing possibilities.

One that tempted me used barley instead of the noodles or rice so often found in potluck dishes. I hesitated to try it when I saw that one ingredient was a can of green peas, but I am glad I made it. The barley lends a satisfying texture missing from rice or noodles, and the combination of vegetables is delicious. You might want to make it for the next potluck you attend. If you think “hot dish” is too pedestrian, you could call it Beef and Vegetable Stew, since that is what it’s like.


2 tsp. shortening
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (at least 85% lean)
1 small onion (2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1 large or 2 medium ribs of celery
3/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 green bell pepper (about 3 inches in diameter)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can green peas
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 – 3 T water


Coat a large skillet with the shortening and cook the ground beef over moderate heat until it is no longer pink. While the meat is cooking, clean and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and the celery into half-inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 375º and lightly grease a three quart casserole.

Add the onion, celery and barley to the meat along with the salt and pepper and continue cooking for about five minutes. Wash the pepper, cut it into quarters and remove the seeds and white membrane. Chop the pepper into a half to three-quarter-inch dice.

If the skillet is large enough, add the pepper, tomatoes, peas and the can of mushroom soup to the meat mixture. If it is not, combine everything in a large mixing bowl. Rinse out the cans with two or three tablespoons of water, stir everything together and spoon the mixture into a three-quart casserole.

Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

NOTES: This recipe is from a Lutheran cookbook. Feel free to add a little more salt and pepper or even a few drops of hot sauce if you prefer a spicier dish.

Do not drain the vegetables, as you want the flavor and liquid in the dish.

Finally, a sincere thank you to Mrs. Heins for her recipe and to all her friends who worked so hard at Eidskog and in so many other churches to share their favorite recipes with latecomers like me.

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.