Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rocket City Redneck Treats

My version of Mary Ann's Bitterballen, Sept. 26, 2011.
Travis Taylor - star of Nat Geo's Rocket City Rednecks - saw my post about his mom's banana bread and immediately emailed to say "Ask her about my favorite recipe: 'Bitter Balling!'  Mary Ann politely gave me the correct term for the recipe: "Bitterballen"  and told me that it IS a favorite of the Taylor family.

You don't often run across German-named delicacies when you discuss traditional Southern cooking of Alabama...  but Mary Ann and Charles Taylor came upon the recipe honestly... through the connection to NASA'a Wernher Von Braun.  Here's how Mary Ann explains it:

Mary Ann’s Bitterballens
My husband Charles and I had the pleasure of tasting this wonderful Dutch recipe back in the ‘60s in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leon Hollenbeck. Mr. Hollenbeck was Werner von Braun’s activities schedule director, and a friend of Charles’, Daddy on the Rednecks.

Recipes intrigue me, and especially this one. So I researched it, and found an original recipe in a very old cookbook that had recipes from around the world. Over the years, I’ve modified the recipe from Amsterdam, making it my own.

  • 2 cups cooked meat (ham, chicken, roast beef, or a combination of the three)
  • 3 heaping tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 cups canola oil (approximate measure- enough for frying in your skillet)


Step One- Chop the Meat for the Filling
  • Chop 2 cups cooked meat: ham, chicken, roast beef, or a combination of the three; and set aside.  [My family likes ham the best.]
Step Two- White Sauce/Gravy
  • Melt butter in a sauce pan on medium heat. 
  • Add 3 heaping tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly until mixture is free of lumps. 
  • Stir in 1 cup of milk, a dash each of salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.
  • Cook until sauce is thick and creamy. 
  • Pour the sauce into a large bowl.
Bitterballen cooling in my freezer, 2011.
Step Three- Cooling
  • Mix chopped meat and gravy. Cool in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
Step Four- Forming the Balls
  • Fill a small bowl with water, set aside.
  • Remove meat from the refrigerator.
  • In another bowl: beat an egg and add 2 tablespoons of water; beat again to mix water and egg, and set aside.
  • Pour 1 cup of dried unseasoned bread crumbs into another bowl.
  • Line a large cookie sheet with wax paper.
  • Dip fingers into water, then scoop about a teaspoon of meat and gravy mixture, roll into a ball.
  • Dip ball into egg mixture and roll in bread crumbs until coated.
  • Place on wax paper; refrigerate until ready to cook.
  • Bitterballens may be frozen at this stage, and thawed before cooking. 
Bitterballen frying in my cast iron skillet, 2011.
Step Five- Frying the Balls
  • Before cooking: dip balls in a fresh bowl of egg and water mixture and roll in breadcrumbs again
  • Balls maybe deep fried, or fried in a skillet
  • I use a deep skillet, and fill it half full with canola oil. Cook on medium heat. Turn them once to brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve as the main course or as finger food.

It's a long chain of connections... from Wernher Von Braun to Leon Hollenbeck to Mary Ann Taylor to here.  The recipe is a bit of a challenge because the balls (which are a mixture of ham and gravy) need to be dipped in an egg wash and covered with bread crumbs before they're refrigerated.  Then they have to be dipped in a second round of egg wash/bread crumbs before frying them.  It takes a while to make them, but as you can see from the photos, the Alabama Bitter Balls are beautiful and tasty.  When my two year old daughter first tried them, she threw her arms up in the air and screamed, "Yummy!".  And we may just make up a batch to snack on while we're watching the Taylor Family on Rocket City Rednecks on Wednesday, Sept 28, at 9 pm on National Geographic.