Welcome to “Cook Along With A Coalcracker In The Kitchen”. These posts will help guide you step-by-step through making some of The Coal Region’s favorite comfort foods.
IMPORTANT — READ through the post first to familiarize yourself with the ingredients and processes involved in completing this recipe!
Bundookies (aka “Bundukies”, “Bundukas”, “Lithuanian Meatballs” depending on who you’re speaking with) are a Coal Region comfort food notably popular in the Schuylkill County area.
These “bundookies” are meatballs made from all ground pork rather than ground beef or a mix of meats. They are not to be confused with Lithuanian Bacon Buns which are sometimes graced with the same moniker– again, depending on who you are speaking with. Lithuanian Bacon Buns are technically “lasineciai“.
Bundookies abound at church picnics, block parties, and ethnic fests within the Schuylkill County area of the Coal Region. They can be found at local kielbasa shops, delis, and some lunch establishments or corner eateries.
Often a staple in Coal Region homes around the Christmas season, there are even “best bundookie” contests throughout our area. Bundookies even made an appearance at the 2018 Bloomsburg Fair by way of a “Skook Sundae” consisting of layers of gourmet mac and cheese, pulled pork, and a bundookie.
As with many Coal Region comfort food recipes, the basics of bundookies are simple, but every cook has “their” secret for making them. This recipe is just one version.
My “personal touches” include: saute the onions first in bacon grease for an additional layer of flavor, use a packet of George Washington Golden Seasoning rather than plain salt. use evaporated milk to soak the crushed crackers, and never skip the allspice called for in my recipe. (George Washington seasoning is available in many supermarkets in the soups/bouillon aisle. If you cannot locate it locally, it is available online.)
The meat mixture will be moist; lightly dampen your hands with water when shaping the bundookies to help prevent the mix from sticking to your hands.
I like to turn the bundookies often when browning to keep their cylindrical shape and I use two forks rather than a spatula when turning. The Bundookies get finished in the oven where they steam and develop flavor; the frying step is only to brown the surface, not to cook them through.
Let’s get started!
Gather your equipment
- 1 medium-sized mixing bowl
- 1-cup liquid measure measuring cup
- 1/2 cup dry measure measuring cup
- Frying pan, size of your choice
- Measuring spoons
- 2 kitchen forks or tongs
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife for dicing
- 13 x 9 baking dish
- Aluminum foil
- Zip top bag, gallon-size
- Rolling pin OR flat-sided meat tenderizer
Getting down to business
Using a sharp knife, finely dice the onion.
Add about 3 Tablespoons bacon grease to a frying pan. Heat the grease over medium-high heat. Oil, vegetable shortening, butter or lard may be used in place of bacon grease, but I prefer the additional flavor the bacon grease adds to the dish. (TIP: Reserve the grease that renders from any bacon you cook; refrigerate in a covered container and use for frying and to boost flavor in many dishes.)
Add the finely chopped onions to the hot fat in the pan.
Reduce heat to low and cook the onions until soft and golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Adjust heat to prevent burning or over-browning of the onions. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, place the crackers into a zip-top bag. Close the bag, squeezing out excess air.
Place the bag on a firm, flat surface. Using a rolling pin or the flat side of a mallet-style meat tenderizer, roll across the crackers or “smash” with the flat side of the tenderizer.
Pick up the bag occasionally to expose the large pieces of cracker that remain. Place the bag back on a flat surface and crush the large pieces, creating fine crumbs. Repeat as necessary to obtain fairly fine crumbs throughout.
Using a dry measure measuring cup, measure the crumbs to get 1/2 cup. Crush more crackers if needed to get the 1/2 cup called for in the recipe.
Place the cracker crumbs in a mixing bowl and add enough evaporated milk to them to create a “mush” the consistence of thick cooked oatmeal, about 6 or 7 Tablespoons. Add a little at a time and adjust as needed. Different brands crackers require slightly different amounts of milk. Allow to sit for a minute or two.
Add the remaining ingredients for the bundookies — including the onions you previously sauteed — to the bowl EXCEPT THE ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR AND THE BACON GREASE FOR FRYING (the flour is used to dredge the meatballs before browning in the bacon grease in the frying pan.) Using a wooden spoon or your hands (my preference), mix the ingredients thoroughly. The mixture should be soft, but still allow you to lightly shape it into oblong meatballs. If it seems stiff and dry, you can add a little more evaporated milk and mix well. If it is so soft you cannot shape it, finely crush a few more crackers and mix them in well.
The mixture should come together as in the photo. TURN YOUR OVEN ON TO 350F DEGREES AT THIS TIME TO PRE-HEAT. Set your baking dish in a convenient place; you will be putting the browned bundookies into it as you remove them from the frying pan.
Place a frying pan over medium-high heat and add 2 or 3 Tablespoons bacon grease, vegetable shortening, oil, or lard to the pan. It is perfectly fine to use the same pan you sauteed the onions in earlier; simply wipe it out with paper towel.
Place the all-purpose flour into a small bowl. Using about a 1/4 cup of meat mixture, form it into an oblong log, drop it into the flour, lightly roll it around, remove from the flour gently shaking off excess, and place it in the frying pan. The mixture is soft and your bundookies may be misshapen; simply use the two forks to “nudge” and flatten lumps and bumps into shape at this time. As you brown the surfaces of the bundookies, they will firm up.
Brown in batches if necessary to avoid over-crowding the pan which allows you to turn the bundookies easier. Keep in mind I worked with a partial batch from this recipe for this cook-along and used the same small frying I cooked the onions in; you may choose to use a larger fry pan than I did when browning your bundookies.
Using two forks (my preferred method) or tongs turn the bundookies to lightly brown on all sides. Each side takes about 45 to 60 seconds. This step is just to brown the surface of the bundookies, not to cook them through. The final cooking step occurs as they bake in the oven.
As the bundookies are browned, place them into your baking pan. Pour 1/4 cup water into the bottom of the pan after you have them all in.
Tightly cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Place the pan into the pre-heated oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the foil covering and serve hot.
Some people enjoy their bundookies with sour cream sprinkled with dill. Many folks, me included, love them served with mashed potatoes and creamed corn. However you make them, whatever you call them, they are beloved in my Schuylkill County corner of Anthracite country!
Cook Along with A Coalcracker In The Kitchen – Coal Region BundookiesCourse: EntreeCuisine: Coal Region, Eastern EuropeanDifficulty: Intermediate
Lithuanian all-pork meatball popular in the Schuylkill County section of the Coal Region.
1/2 cup saltine cracker crumbs
Splash of evaporated milk to wet crackers
2 pounds fresh ground pork
2 whole eggs
1 packet G. Washington Golden Seasoning (preferred) OR 1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 medium onions, very finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
- For frying
All-purpose flour for lightly dredging the meatballs, about 1/2 cup
6 to 8 Tablespoons bacon grease for frying onions and meatballs
- Fry the very finely chopped onions in some bacon grease over medium-low heat until soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
- In a mixing bowl, place crushed crackers and add a splash of evaporated milk, enough to moisten the crackers and make a “mush” the consistency of cooked oatmeal. About 5 or 6 Tablespoons — amount will vary with brand of crackers used. Stir and allow to set for 2 or 3 minutes.
- In the same bowl, add the remainder of ingredients except the all-purpose flour and bacon grease and mix well until thoroughly blended. Mixture should be soft.
- Form into approximately 1 inch thick, 2 inch long shapes (oblong, not round); about 1/4 cup of the mixture. Dredge in the all-purpose flour, shake off excess. Quickly pan fry in some bacon grease, oil or lard until browned on all sides, gently turning while browning – two forks work well to help turn and shape the bundookies as they brown. (You are just browning the surface, not cooking them through at this step. You will finish cooking these in the oven.)
- Place the browned bundookies in a 13 x 9 casserole dish or baking pan, pour 1/4 cup water in the bottom of the pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350F degrees for 45 minutes or until cooked through (depends on the size of the bundookies).
- Remove from oven and serve hot.