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Mom's Comfort Food

Porcupine Meatballs
by Lori Grossman

Every Texas town has at least one eating establishment that loves to brag about its down-home cooking. I've seen a few that lay claim to cuisine "even better than Mom used to make." In some cases, they may be right but, in my humble (and totally unprejudiced) opinion, my mom had a few tricks of her own up her sleeve.

She would be the first to tell you that she's never been a gourmet cook (my brother would be quick to second that). In fairness to her, she learned how to feed her family in the Fifties and Sixties when many of today's shortcuts were just wishful thinking.

Back then, most women were stay-at-home moms. My mom worked hard at her "job" – especially when it came to making tasty, nutritious meals. Her homemade pear pies were a special treat. Truly made from scratch, she picked the fruit from two pear trees in our back yard. I've never tasted a better pie, before or since.

With no Internet or cell phone calls to distract me, I spent many hours helping mom in the kitchen. Dad was the unfortunate recipient of my culinary experiments, which he always praised to the skies. The following recipe was a family favorite – even my brother liked it!

Don't let the name confuse you; it's made with ground beef, not porcupine meat! You'll need a pressure cooker for this dish. Pressure cookers are a bit tricky to use, so make sure that you follow directions closely. Never open the cooker until it has cooled down and the pressure inside is completely reduced. Otherwise, this recipe is as quick and delicious as they come – and it makes its own sauce.

Porcupine Meatballs

  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef (80% lean is best)
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion (optional)
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 2/3 cup water
In a mixing bowl, combine the meat, rice, salt, pepper and onion (if desired). Shape into small balls approximately 2-1/4 inches in diameter.

Mix the tomato soup and water in pressure cooker and heat, uncovered, until the soup starts simmering. Carefully place the meatballs close together in soup mixture. Close cover securely. Place Pressure Regulator on vent pipe and cook 10 minutes with Pressure Regulator rocking slowly. Gently move cooker to an adjacent cool burner and let pressure drop completely before opening. Makes approximately 12 meat balls.

Note: If you're watching your fat intake and prefer your meat as lean as possible, refrigerate leftover porcupines in a bowl overnight. The fat will come to the top and you can easily remove it.

I have no idea where the next recipe came from. Mom often searched through cookbooks and magazines for ideas, besides collecting favorites from friends and relatives. I'm not sure how many servings this makes but, unless you're feeding a crowd, you're sure to have some leftovers. Serve this with a salad and you're all set.


  • 4 ounces wide egg noodles (half of a package)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium green pepper, minced
  • 1/3 cup celery, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons butter
  • About 1/3-can whole kernel corn
Prepare noodles as label on package directs. Drain and cover to keep warm. In 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, cook ground beef, green pepper, celery, salt and pepper until meat is browned (about 10 minutes). Stir occasionally. Spoon off fat.

Stir in undiluted mushroom soup.

Place hot noodles in two 2-quart casseroles. Toss with butter until it melts and coats noodles.

Stir in meat mixture until well mixed. Stir in corn. Cover with foil. Bake in 350°F oven 45 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

Back in those long-ago days when most women didn't work outside the home, there was more time for cooking. Our house – and all of my friends' houses – had cookie jars that moms kept filled with several different kinds of cookies. We loved these.


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • Confectioners' sugar
Cream butter and sugar; add 2 teaspoons water, and the vanilla extract. Mix well. Blend in flour and nuts; chill dough for 4 hours.

Shape dough into balls or fingers. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 325°F about 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool cookies slightly. Roll in confectioners' sugar. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Most of us have at least one dish we're known for. Maybe yours is chili, or a special casserole. Mom's was this cake. You might wonder why a cake made with prunes would be such a hit. All I know is that no family gathering was complete without my mom's Prune Nut Cake. And I doubt that she would have gotten in any relative's front door without it.

Dottie's Prune Nut Cake

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped
  • 1 cup pitted cooked prunes, chopped (if you cooked them, save 3 tablespoons juice)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cake Filling (recipe follows)
Cream sugar and butter. Beat eggs and drop in, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix baking soda with sour cream and add to butter mixture.

In another bowl, sift flour four times with cinnamon, allspice, and salt to make sure spices are thoroughly blended. Add to butter mixture. Add nuts, prunes (plus reserved prune juice. If you used precooked prunes, use 3 tablespoons water), and vanilla extract. Mix ingredients. Bake in two 8-inch greased and floured cake pans.

Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes (don't overbake). Test with wooden toothpick. Cake is done when toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack before frosting.

Cake Filling
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Few grains salt
  • 1 cup cooked, chopped prunes (plus 3 tablespoons prune juice)
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often. When thick enough for spreading, spread between layers and on top and sides of cake. This is a rich cake, so cut into thin slices.

Thanks for all the great meals, Mom. And Happy Mother's Day to all.

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