The lovely Melissa recently waxed poetic about high school graduation parties in the Midwest. Folks sitting on folding chairs in a cleaned out garage, noshing on ham buns and sheet cake.
I’m headed to my homeland this weekend, the traditional high school graduation weekend. The local paper prints the senior photos of the graduating class, and my mom and I look through them all. We used to look for the little brothers and sisters of my friends, or those of my brother. Now we look for kids I used to babysit. Even those kids are starting to fade – the toddler I babysat the most is about to be a college junior! But the last names stay the same, and the fashion travesties always keep us intrigued.
The local graduation parties do feature sheet cake and ham buns, and like Melissa noted, no graduate actually has fun. The people attending the parties don’t have fun, either, come to think of it. But it’s a rite of passage. And if you’re really lucky, you hit the mother load of Iowa food.
I just finished listening to Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Read by the author, it’s the tale of his childhood in Des Moines.
Bryson writes about all the random foodstuffs available at Iowa potlucks – dishes made by and consumed by women named Mabel, dishes that combine foods that should never be thought of simultaneously, much less mixed together. If you’ve ever enjoyed any casserole featuring Cheez Whiz, you know what he’s talking about.
In a line that almost made me drive off a bridge as I convulsed with laughter, Bryson notes that Jell-o is the state fruit of Iowa.
Yes. My family has an official Jell-o bowl – I think you could buy them with stamps at the grocery in the early 70s. Jell-o made in any other bowl just doesn’t taste right. And there’s a secret to getting your fruit evenly distributed in the Jell-o instead of just floating at the top. I, admittedly, have not yet mastered this fine art. But I’m working on it.
No, my great Iowa food claim to fame is that I make The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. The secret? Low heat and real butter. Shh!
My greatest Iowa food wish? Perfect ham balls.
Get your mind out of the gutter.
These are not a graduation party food, but rather the food you take when someone dies, these suckers are basically a meatball made of ground beef, ground ham and onion. Oh, and ketchup. They’re covered with an orange glaze, and your grandma would serve them with potatoes and green beans.
Mr. Wonderful is obviously my soul mate because he considers ham balls to be culinary nirvana.
I’m thinking about driving home, about the random, delightful things sure to be waiting in my mom’s kitchen. It’s helping me detox from a rather stressful week as I sit in my cube at 6:15 on a Thursday night. Because dreams of Jell-o? They have restorative properties.