This meal sounds very painful, and according to my Dad, it was. I must’ve blocked this dish from my mind. The only porcupine memory I have is when I was about five years old. My Grandma and Grandpa Coen took Tracy and me camping with them that summer. They had one of those old round pink and white travel trailers that was smaller than their Rambler Station Wagon. When we went on road trips with B.K. and Margaret (remember—nicknames people!), B.K. always made sure to bring along his binoculars. While B.K. and Margaret were enjoying their 8-track tape of Slim Whitman ballads in the front seat, Tracy and I were in the back seat, bored to tears, resorting to pretending to shave our faces with the seat belt straps. Once the “SHE’S TOUCHING ME” antics began, B.K. would break out the binoculars and put us to work with a very important job. We would have to turn around and hang over the back seat to watch for Highway Patrols. We’d take turns looking through those binoculars to keep the cops off our trail. You know a speeding ticket probably cost twenty whole dollars back then.
Anyway, on this particular camping trip—the one where my well-intentioned Grandma put rubbing alcohol directly on the open blisters on my ankles—we spotted us a real porcupine. It was way up in a pine tree and you’d have thought it was the Second Coming. All kinds of aunts, uncles and cousins watched that thing for hours instead of giving in to me begging for a motorcycle ride. When it was FINALLY my turn to look through B.K.’s binoculars, all I could see up in that tree was a big rat with long needle-things hanging off of it. Well, apparently it was a porcupine, but it looked like a big crazy rat. What a rip-off.
Now porcupine balls of the culinary form are basically just ‘souped-up’ meatballs (pardon the pun) and it’s quite possible my Mom stole the recipe from The Heinz Book of Meat Cookery®. Which reminds me — there was a remedy, although minor, for most of the thrifty treats my Mom created: Heinz Ketchup. It was a main ingredient in every meal, actually one of the basic food groups for my Dad. He was no dumby. Slap enough ketchup on any of Mom’s economy meals and it was suddenly a bit more palatable. Ketchup was a must-have on the dinner table … it had to be within Dad’s reach at all times, and it HAD to be Heinz. Even as a kid, my Dad would eat ketchup on just about everything. B.K. once dared Dad to put some ketchup on a chocolate cream pie. Two questions come to mind … did he actually do it? And secondly, my Grandpa actually bought a chocolate cream pie?? (Stay tuned for “Grandpa Coen’s Pickle Soup—subtitled “Cheeseburger, Chips and a Pickle — All For Two Bits.”) Well, Dad did eat ketchup on that chocolate cream pie, and I believe he mentioned he immediately puked afterward. Well, who can resist a dare? All of his life, everybody and their brother made fun of Dad and his ketchup. Relatives would buy a bottle of Heinz and wrap it up for his birthday. Ha, ha, stop, my sides hurt. Sometimes when we set the table for dinner, we’d put the bottle right on Dad’s plate, just for kicks. Well, who’s laughing now? With all those anticarcinogens and lycopene now known to be in ketchup, Dad’s about the healthiest guy we know.
Recipe for Porcupine Balls:
1 pound of ground beef
2 cups of cooked white rice
1 can of tomato soup
2 tablespoons of minced onion (or cut up a little bit of real onion to make it fancy)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry up the ground beef. Cook the rice separately according to package directions. Add the rice to the hamburger, I mean ground beef, and throw in the tomato soup and onion. Dig your hands in and mix it together. Form the mixture into tennis-sized balls and put them on the rusty baking sheet (put some tin foil on the sheet for safety and no-muss cleaning later). Bake at 350 degrees until porcupine quills shoot out of the oven.