Foods are family memories. There's your aunt's huckleberry pie, your mother's chicken-fried steak or your uncle's rum toddy. For Troy Walker, it's his Grandma Anna's German Butterball Soup.

"Grandma Anna took great pride in being a homemaker, back in a time when that was something to be very proud of. She did all of the stuff we think of when we think of grandmothers. She did fried chicken and the baking. Her butterball soup one of the recipes she would do at holidays."

Talking about his youth, Troy said, "We'd always meet at Grandma's house for the holidays, because they really centered around her being there, her cooking and everyone trying to help.

"I got together with my cousins not very long ago, and we were talking about Grandma and the things we remember about her — her cooking was always that main thing. She took great pride in her cooking and the cleanliness of her house and her kitchen. Her house was spotless," he said. "We reminisced how much we missed spending time on the farm."

He said those memories on his grandparents' Colorado farm was what prompted him to share his grandmother's recipe.

"It's a pretty simple recipe," Troy explained, but he had one caveat: "We put these butterballs into chicken soup; unfortunately, Grandma never taught me how to make the soup. But this recipe is all about the butterballs and not the soup.

"This recipe almost seems too simple for how good it turns out. What I do is mix all the dry ingredients first, including allspice, because if there is a secret ingredient in the recipe, it's the allspice. It really sets off the flavor."

Troy said, as an aside, that after you've made the recipe the first time with the suggested 1 teaspoon of allspice, you can adjust the amount by putting in a little more or a little less to suit your taste the next time you make it.

After combining all the dry ingredients, he melted the butter in the microwave and drizzled it into the dry ingredients before adding the other liquid. "Then crack the eggs into a separate bowl, add the half and half and stir them together before adding them to the batter. I use half and half, but if you want to get really rich and fat, use whipping cream, which is what my grandma used to use."

Once all the ingredients are in the bowl and mixed to the texture of cookie dough, it's time to get the family involved in rolling the butterballs, Troy said. "Kids will love this, and get the people who don't like to get their hands dirty to help you — it's a lot of fun."

Size is important when making the butterballs, he said. "It's not a matzo ball; it's not a softball. You just want make a nice little ball, about the size of a walnut, that's as round as you can make them. If you want them a little bigger, you can go up to maybe golf-ball size, but not any bigger. I've experimented with bigger ones and smaller ones, and I've found that the smaller ones just work better."

There are two really important steps in this recipe, and the first takes patience, Troy explained. "You have to refrigerate the balls for at least four hours, but overnight is best. That way, you give all the ingredients a chance to pull together, and you come up with these little nuggets of goodness."

To make the soup the next day, "You can use any chicken soup you want, even instant — sorry, Grandma," Troy quipped. "You can even make your own. I use prepared chicken soup and doctor it up. A little bit of green onion is nice.

"Once you've got the soup ready and it's simmering on the stove, drop in the butterballs one at time. Do it really easily; don't splash any (hot soup) on yourself." The second important step comes when you're cooking the tasty morsels.

"Remember, have the soup at a simmer," Troy cautioned. "You don't want to boil the butterballs, because they'll fall apart. If the balls don't stay together when you cook them, you end up with a wonderful bowl of mush.

"Once you get them in there, they're going to drop to the bottom. They're going to sit there for a while," Troy said. "They'll tell you when they're done. They're going to float to the top, usually in around five to seven minutes. When they come to the top, it's time to eat. That's when you pull out the bowls and call everybody in."

Troy said there's no need to rush to ladle out the butterballs, because "The longer they sit in the broth and soak the flavors up, the nicer they get."

But don't overeat, Troy warned, "Because if you eat six or eight of these things, you'd better go lie down."

• Grandma Anna's German Butterball Soup

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups bread crumbs

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Dash of nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice

2 large eggs

1/2 cup half and half or heavy whipping cream

1 cube (1/2 cup) butter, melted

8 to 10 cups chicken soup, homemade or store-bought

Putting it together

Combine all dry ingredients in medium mixing bowl; mix well. Pour melted butter slowly over dry ingredients; stir to incorporate.

Into a separate bowl, crack eggs and whisk in half and half or cream to combine. Slowly add egg mixture to dry ingredients and mix to form a stiff dough. If the dough is too dry, add a little more half and half or cream. If it is too wet, add an extra dash of bread crumbs.

Form dough into firm, walnut-size balls. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours, preferably overnight.

Heat soup until simmering, add 12 to 14 butterballs and simmer five to seven minutes. Balls will initially sink, but will float when done. Important: Do not boil; balls will fall apart if you do.

Serve soup with two to three butterballs in each bowl.

• • •

As he was monitoring the cooking process, Troy reminisced about his childhood and his visits to he grandparents' farm.

"When the cousins and I would eat these at Grandma's house, when we were kids, we would eat some of the balls, and then go running around, and then come back and there'd still be a pot full of soup and butterballs. It seemed like it was endless."

Once the delicious butterballs and soup were served and devoured, Troy said there was one thing he wanted people to remember: "This is my Grandma Anna's recipe, and I know all of you are going to love it."

Troy has lived in District 10 for about 18 years with his wife, Heidi. "I met her in Woodland, and I followed her up here when she went to college."

Troy said he was born in the Bay Area, but his family moved to Esparto when he was a youngster. He later graduated from Esparto High School.

Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter John Hollis at 741-2400 or jhollis@appeal-democrat.com.

 

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