How Grape Jelly And Meatballs Became A Cocktail Party Classic

When you contemplate foods that blend well and complement each other, meatballs and grape jelly probably isn't the first combination that comes to mind. After all, peanut butter and jelly is the combo borrowed for the common expression about things going well together. However, grape jelly and meatballs defied the odds to become a cocktail party classic.

This quirky mix is believed to have first emerged on the scene in the 1960s after a recipe for it appeared in a cookbook called "Elegant but Easy: A Cookbook for Hostesses," by Marian Burros and Lois Levine. The cookbook referred to it by the uninspiring moniker of Chafing Dish Meatballs, describing the vessel in which it was made. This seminal recipe consisted of grape jelly, chili sauce, lemon juice, and meatballs. During the 1960s, continued spoken praise about this dish eventually turned grape jelly and meatballs into a staple for parties and potlucks as the recipe proliferated. 

The dish continued garnering attention in articles and newspapers as recipes were posted throughout the 1970s. Much of the chatter surrounding this dish focused on its natural fit as an easy-to-make appetizer that can be speared on a toothpick and eaten, which creates less mess when serving, and helped build its reputation as a fixture of social functions.

Grape jelly and meatballs are still the jam

A slightly updated version of the original grape jelly and meatballs showed up in "Betty Crocker's Cookbook" in 1978 and changed the meatball a little but kept the grape jelly and chili sauce as mainstay ingredients. Over the years, people began adding unique spins to the dish. Some used barbecue sauce in lieu of chili sauce. Others tried different types of jellies, fruit spreads, and even hoisin sauce. However, the pioneers of the appetizer left the original recipe alone in the 1998 updated edition of "Elegant but Easy," citing its immense popularity.

A new introduction in cooking technology eventually changed how most prepare grape jelly and meatballs. While initially made in a chafing dish, once the slow cooker gained traction, it became the preferred culinary vehicle. Slow cookers are a major draw for people today because they offer an easy and efficient alternative to slaving over a hot stove all day. Simply drop in your ingredients and cook them low and slow. 

If you don't think this appetizer is still a cocktail party hit, Google it: Searching for grape jelly and meatballs results in over 11 million results and a deluge of recipes. For those who want to try making this long-standing hors d'oeuvre favorite slow cooker style, check out our party-pleasing grape jelly meatballs recipe, which brings cocktail sauce and hot sauce into the equation.