Porcupine Meatballs and The Artist’s Way


A friend of mine has been reading and doing The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Point me in the direction of acting like an artist. Show me the way. That’s not the book’s premise but it kind of sounds like it might be.


Another artist friend who lived on Salt Spring gave me the book in 2010. At the time, I flipped through it and never looked at it again.  But I did keep it.

A few weeks ago when I learned of my other friend’s diligence (she’s on week 12), something in me was motivated as well.

I was reading Week 3 – Recovering a Sense of Power, and a small part refers to shaming in childhood and how that can affect our expression of creativity, especially when it comes to finishing things, in adulthood.

“Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It’s no longer worth the trouble. To therapists, this surge of sudden disinterest (‘It doesn’t matter’) is a routine coping device employed to deny pain and ward off vulnerability.”

“If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art (and this means art in the broadest terms) will be fraught with internal shaming.”

There was enough resonance in that statement for me that it got me off the couch in search of a yellow marker.

One of the tasks at the end of Week 3 is to dredge up some childhood memories. Favourite foods for example. For me I thought of Porcupine meatballs and Chocolate birthday cake with pennies wrapped up inside. Not combined. I recalled the joy of having one of those gumballs that come out of those machines where you slot in a quarter and out rolls a shiny pink molar-breaking tasteless piece of perfection. (Indeed, you are correct, it’s not a member of a food group). I also thought about tuna fish casserole with mushrooms and rice with melted cheese and chips on top that my grandmother used to make. (Sounds disgusting now but I loved it then). Baked potatoes with sour cream and bacon bits and grated cheddar cheese. Num. Num.

Favourite games? Snakes and Ladders. Chinese checkers. Checkers.  Candyland. 52 Pick-Up Stix. An imaginary “quicksand” game we played in Darryl McGuffey’s basement, the one that meant you had to leap from one piece of random furniture to the other because the floor was QUICKSAND!

Now I don’t know what it was about favourite foods but when I thought about my mother’s Porcupine Meatballs, my eyes got all teary and I stopped reading. They call them porcupine, I think, because rice gets poked into them and the rice can look a little like the quills on porcupines.  I hadn’t thought of those juicy round morsels of meat for ages and I got all choked up. The feeling came so quickly.

What the heck was  going on?  It’s Sunday morning and thinking about my mother’s homemade Porcupine meatballs led to tears running down my face. Oh god. That can only mean two things. Life has become extremely dull, Weight Watchers is getting to me, and I’m in more emotional danger than I imagine. Okay, that’s three.

I knew to really lean into the feeling, to let it happen. Then I thought about it, came up with two theories that made total sense, and eventually felt better.  No, I’m not going to tell you what it was about the Porcupine meatballs that induced emotion strong enough to make me cry. That’s for me to know and you to laugh about.

The point is…what is the point? The point is that books can be in your surroundings for a long time and then one day, they become the perfect book. You need to read that book. Have you ever noticed that? You can own a book forever and when it’s the right time to read it, you will read it. When it’s not, you will stop reading it. Profound eh? You spent 3 minutes reading this for THAT! Three minutes that will never ever come again. Forgive me.

Think back to your own childhood. Does a favorite food come to mind? I ‘d be curious to know what it is for you.

Oh, and this isn’t my mother’s recipe but it is a recipe for Porcupine Meatballs. I might just have to make it and see how it holds up to the memory.


  1. Good post Gayle. Porcupine Balls is a very old recipe from the 50’s that was popular to take to potluck suppers. They looks unusual and were easy to make. I have a recipe book called Lost and Found produced by the Times Colonist that contain many of the old recipes from the 40’s and 50’s. A good source for economy cooking.

    My childhood was during the 40’s when rationing enveloped England, which meant there was little food of any sort, but I do remember eating one dish ‘Rice Pudding’. Mom made it because it only took 1/2 cup of rice to feed 5 people. It consisted of rice and milk. My brother and I always argued over the burnt milk crust on the top, he used to spit on half of the pudding (thinking that nobody else would eat it) it was not a detterent.

    It always filled the house with a wonderful smell, and it was hot. I still love rice pudding to this day and have only that for supper sometimes.

    Another memory is Dripping Sandwiches which consisted of bread smothered with the fat drippings from the container on the back of the stove. They were wonderfully salty. Another frequent filler meal was a cup of hot water with 1/2 an OXO cube and stale bread to dip.

    Some of the above may sound gross to people in this day and age, but hold comforting memories of a warm full tummy to help me fall asleep.

    1. Very interesting! Thanks Pauline for sharing. I’m not sure about your brother spitting on the rice pudding not being a deterrent? Whoa. That’s hungry. That Times Colonist cook book sounds good. I realize that recipe books, the kind you and my mother used to have, are a thing of the past now that all you have to do is Google everything!

  2. Wonderful post, Gayle. I really enjoyed how you approached the idea.

    Funny, that I often think of a casserole my mom made “Supper Surprise” which was just a combination of gr.beef, onions, tomato soup/paste/sauce(I’m not sure), skinny egg noodles, and corn. She’d make two smallish casseroles of it, one without cheese for me, and one with cheese for her. She followed a recipe which over the years I’ve lost and I just can’t make it taste the same. She didn’t really cook recipes much – in fact she gave up cooking dinner when I was about 13. I took over that task. But she would make the casserole sometimes on the weekend and it was like a little gift. Something just for the two of us. And that’s why I cry when I think of it.

    1. Jo-Anne, Ah. That’s sweet. I can picture you and your mom sitting down with joy to eat those special little casseroles.
      Everyone, surely, has a bitter/sweet memory around childhood and food. More than one memory I imagine. Cooking for someone is love. It helps to be a good cook though so they can FEEL the love in a good way, not an OMG, I have to pretend to like this kind of way! Quite a few people might be doing that tonight (Valentine’s Day).
      A long, long time ago I lived with this guy named Will who had a favourite dish from his childhood called Company Supper. Every time his mother came to visit, he wanted her to make it or he’d make it. It wasn’t something I liked all that much. Of course, he loved it. He made us each a recipe book one year for Christmas (that’s the kind of guy he was) and so I could actually re-make myself Company Supper or one of many other recipes that he used to make that were delish if I really wanted to since I still have that cookbook.

      The day after I wrote this post, I invited a friend for supper and I did make Porcupine Meatballs. What surprised me is that when I Googled them, there were tons of recipes for them and lots of people (around my age) loved them as kids as well. I always thought that was my mom’s very own recipe. Funny. They weren’t quite as good as I remembered them to be but it was fun to make them and taste them again. Thanks for sharing your story.

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