By Cristen Clark, Food & Swine

Iowa Ham BallsSometimes it is a welcome notion to break tradition at the holiday dinner table. I’m always excited to see how the landscape of our traditional spread changes from year to year. With the addition of new family members and the unfortunate loss of others, the dynamic of our family is constantly changing. This means our holiday offerings evolve, too. One thing you can be certain about, if you eat with us, we are going to be enjoying pork in a number of ways. We take tremendous pride in raising pigs and contributing to the greatest feast of the year.

While we often welcome change, we also take security in tradition. Ham Balls are not a new recipe for our family, but rather an institution. You’ll find them on the dinner table for occasions ranging from holidays to birthday dinners. It is a recipe that holds a special spot in my family cookbook and in many recipe boxes of Midwest families. Heirloom recipes celebrate nostalgic foods, and they bring us a rare kind of comfort. For me, comforts like this are welcome during the holidays, because they conjure up memories of those who are unable to join us at the dinner table.

This family recipe for Ham Balls is pure Iowa. These delicious meat balls are made with a combination of ground ham and ground pork, which is a mixture called “ham loaf” in some grocery stores. The slightly tangy glaze rounds out the savory flavors of pork, our most abundant Iowa commodity.

An intrinsic love of cooking transcends generations, just as good recipes should.  I keep food traditions alive because they mean so much to me and I want my children to have those same experiences. The hidden bonus of this recipe is that kids LOVE ham balls. They are simple to cut and easy for little ones to eat. The longer they are occupied in their high chair or at the “kids table,” the more Thanksgiving everyone else can take pleasure in. I hope you enjoy this coveted family recipe with those who mean the most to you and Make it a Moment this holiday season!

Iowa Ham Balls

by: Cristen Clark,
Makes 18-24 ham balls


  • 2 lbs. ham loaf
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 cups crushed butter crackers
  • 1/4 cup minced dehydrated onion
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups milk


  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard powder


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ham loaf, ground pork, crackers, onion, egg and milk. Mix only until combined. Shape into roughly 1/4 cup sized balls. Place in greased baking pans. Bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, combine ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard powder in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring and remove from heat. After 45 minutes of baking, remove ham balls from oven, drain if desired, and pour glaze over the baked ham balls. Return to oven to set glaze for 15 minutes. Remove and cool a few minutes, then serve warm.

Cristen Clark is an Iowa farmer, wife and mother of two. She started the blog Food & Swine to share contest-winning recipes, stories of her growing family, and snapshots of daily life on an Iowa farm. She enjoys grain harvest, coaching softball, caring for newborn baby piglets, and baking pies. She prefers two eggs over-hard and two strips of bacon for breakfast every morning with her husband Mike and children Halle and Barrett.