There are a few quintessential dishes in the Black community. Dishes that are pillars to our upbringing and existence. Dishes that must be prepared with reverence and to perfection.

Coming in at No. 1 is macaroni and cheese. Not mac and cheese like the kind sold at Chick-fil-A (which is oddly good) but macaroni and cheese, the kind that only a Black matriarch can properly judge. Botching this delicacy — without the correct cheese-to-noodle ratio or slightly burnt edges — is the easiest way to revoke your chef rights.

To me, the second-most important dish in the Black household should come as no surprise. And if you guessed potato salad, then you guessed right. I have witnessed families fall apart because someone added unnecessary ingredients to the potato salad. Raisins or cranberries don’t belong in potato salad. Fumble the potato salad and you will be shamed for generations and uninvited to Thanksgiving. The ancestors might even haunt you. In Black culture, potato salad is as sacred as spades or eating crabs on the front porch.

In last place is a dish that might be a shocker, but it’s one that has become extremely important not only to present day Black culture but to many others. Without this dish, holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and events like funeral repasts and baby showers, wouldn’t be celebrated properly. I’m talking about the highly-sought-after meatballs — which I will refer to as baby shower meatballs from here on out.

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Now, I don’t understand the culinary science behind what makes baby shower meatballs so good, but I’ll try to unpack my theories.

The first time I realized my love for baby shower meatballs was last year when I attended not one, but four baby showers. And I’m not a baby shower type of guy. Traditionally, especially in the ’90s, baby showers were mostly events curated and celebrated among women. But with the ever-growing popularity of gender reveals, baby showers are now celebrations for everyone. That’s how I discovered my affinity for meatballs. It got to the point that I started attending baby showers just for the thrill of eating them.

A plate of food, including meatballs, from a baby shower Wallace Lane attended last year.
A plate of food, including meatballs, from a baby shower Wallace Lane attended last year. (Courtesy of Wallace Lane)

Ask me the names of the babies we celebrated at those showers and I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But if you ask me how the meatballs were, I will not only be able to tell you about the euphoric taste of baby shower meatballs accompanied by pasta salad, spaghetti and deviled eggs, but I’ll also be able to tell you how many servings I ate. At least seconds, and sometimes I took to-go plates, too. Hey, I am just being honest.

Another reason I believe these meatballs taste so good is because of their simplicity. Growing up, I was forced to eat spaghetti with meatballs. I hated the dish because it took forever to make, and it was too hearty of a meal for children, to say the least. I disliked meatballs so much as a child that I vowed to never eat them again. That is, of course, until I had baby shower meatballs as an adult.

But you can’t eat meatballs just anywhere. They only taste good at gatherings where you’re celebrating. I would not eat this savory and sweet entree outside of a gender reveal or prom send-off, for example. I can recall when a friend made baby shower meatballs, white rice and salad for a dinner. I most certainly ate the meal, as I was raised not to waste food, but I had questions about the choice. Why would she ever waste such an important food when there was nothing to celebrate?

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The anticipation is also what drives my baby shower meatball obsession. You see, when you attend a baby shower, there is an order of things that must happen. To kick off the celebration, family and friends must mingle over the DJ’s selection. The father to be must be sporting a Burberry shirt. The expectant mother must make her grand entrance. Food must be served and the little ones and elders must eat first. Traditional baby shower games like “chug the bottle” will be played.

But none of that matters if the meatballs are not good. As a matter of fact, throw the entire baby shower away if the meatballs are lackluster. No one will say it, but I am brave enough to now. Luckily, none of the baby showers I attended last year had this issue. The meatballs were saucy, savory and sweet. Maybe they were made with grape jelly and barbecue sauce, like the majority of people like to use these days. I often didn’t know who made the meatballs before I dug into them, but once I took a bite, I instantly knew they were prepared by someone who knew what they were doing.

And that is perhaps what makes baby shower meatballs so delicious: They are made with love.

I have been thinking about baby shower meatballs even more since the birth of my first niece in January. Having a niece has made me feel mushy and overprotective. I can’t wait to interview her prom date with my brother-in-law like Mike and Marcus did in “Bad Boys II.” I want to be the kind of uncle that makes her so happy that she bursts out in laughter when she sees me. I want her friends to one day say, ”I like your Uncle Wallace, that’s my guy.” And I can’t wait to tell her one day how amazing the meatballs were at her baby shower.

Wallace Lane is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region. 

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