Kirsten’s Swedish Meatballs are a highlight of the American Girl cookbook series

Left: The cover of Kirsten's Cook Book. Right: a skillet of Swedish meatballs.
Photo: Sharon Chen/Wikimedia Commons, Image: American Girl

If you were a kid who read books for fun and felt like an 80-year-old woman trapped in an 8-year-old’s body, you were American Girl’s primary demographic. All the other dolls on the market had accessories like barrettes and hair brushes, while American Girl dolls had cool accessories like tiny wooden ladles or hand-woven fishing baskets. And if you, like me, never got your own American Girl doll because your father thought an $82 doll with several hundred dollars’ worth of accessories sold separately was a “racket,” you had to make do with the catalogs and your imagination.

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I was lucky that my local library had purchased all of the American Girl storybooks, which invited the reader along for each historical adventure: celebrating St. Lucia’s Day with Swedish pioneers; learning good manners at a Victorian school for girls, keeping people’s spirits up during World War II. Most of all, I loved the cookbooks, which in a way allowed me to make my very own American Girl accessories that I could eat. Recently I found digital copies of some of these cookbooks on the Internet Archive, and they’ve made me as giddy as they did all those years ago. Since I’m now a full-fledged adult who knows how to cook, I don’t follow the kid-friendly recipes exactly as written, adapting them to be a bit more flavorful, but keeping their spirit firmly intact. I like to think my version of Swedish meatballs is what 19th-century pioneer Kirsten cooked herself once she grew up, provided she didn’t die of dysentery before she turned 18. There were no follow-up American Woman books, so I can’t make any assumptions.


Swedish Meatballs

Adapted from Kirsten’s Cook Book

  • 3 slices white sandwich bread
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground pork
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Cooking oil, like canola or vegetable
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups good quality beef stock
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Tear the bread up into tiny pieces and place in a large bowl with the milk and heavy cream. Using the large holes on box grater, grate the onion straight into the bowl, then stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ginger, and let sit for two minutes.

Add the beef, pork, and beaten egg to the bowl; using your hands, mix everything together until just combined. Roll into golf-ball-sized meatballs, set on a plate, cover with plastic, and put in the freezer to firm up for about ten minutes.

Coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet with a bit of cooking oil, then preheat over high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Remove the meatballs from the freezer and, working in batches, fry until deeply brown on all sides—about 5-7 minutes—moving to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Once all the meatballs have been cooked, pour the excess grease into a bowl to cool before discarding. Reduce the heat to medium and melt the butter, then whisk in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds to make a golden roux. Slowly pour in the beef stock, stirring constantly and scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Put all the meatballs back in the pan, gently stirring to coat with gravy, pop on a lid, turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley and taste for seasoning, adjusting as you see fit.

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Big Salad

Seriously...just buy them at IKEA.