Vivian's Sausage Balls


Sausage balls rank up there with cheese balls as our country’s most cliched and beloved party foods. The difference between the two is that most sausage balls are made with a little cheese and a little sausage bound by a whole lot of Bisquick. They taste like dry, porky balls of flour, and every time I take a bite of one I’m disappointed. 

These sausage balls are more like meatballs bound by a little starch and punctuated by cheddar. To me that’s what something called a sausage ball should be. 

It doesn’t matter whether you make your own sausage for this recipe or not. What does matter is the cheese. A sharp-edged cheddar is best and absolutely must arrive at your home in block form; the pre-shredded, dusty stuff will not melt well. 

From “Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipe from My Corner of the South,” by Vivian Howard (Little Brown and Co., 2016).

Sausage Balls

1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated on the medium holes of a box grater (about 1 ⅔ cups)
1 pound fresh sausage
1 small yellow onion, grated
2 ounces cream cheese
Apple Mustard (optional, recipe below)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Spray the parchment with nonstick spray. 

In a medium bowl, stir together the cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Toss that together with the cheese to evenly coat. In another medium bowl, use your hands to combine the sausage, onion, and cream cheese. 

Once the sausage mixture is homogeneous, add it to the cheddar cheese mixture. Get in there with your hands to combine the two. You’re looking for a slightly dry dough. Pinch off 1-ounce pieces and roll them into balls. Place them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. 

I prefer to serve these warm with Apple Mustard but room-temperature sausage balls are totally acceptable. The mix freezes well too. 

Yield: 40 1-ounce balls

Apple Mustard

4 cloves
3 sprigs thyme
1 star anise
1 1/2 pounds apples, diced, skin and core intact (6 cups)
1 large yellow onion, diced, about 2 cups 
1/2 small orange, sliced thin, seeds removed
1 cup apple cider
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup smooth Dijon mustard

Tie the cloves, thyme and star anise in a sachet. Then combine apples, onion, orange slices, apple cider, water, brown sugar, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and salt in a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and bring it up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Remove the lid and cook an additional 30 minutes. Pluck out the sachet. Stir in the Dijon mustard and transfer to a high-powered blender. Remove the round insert from the top of your blender and cover the resulting hole with a towel. Blend slowly at first, increasing speed as you feel confident you’re not going to make a huge hot mess. Let it go until the apple butter is incredibly smooth. This will keep sealed in the fridge for up to a month. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Yield: 4 cups