Morbid Curiosity: Cold Balls 3 – The Mystery of the Burning Bush

For my third installment of my Cold Balls series (part 1 can be found here and part 2 can be found here), I’ve chosen a recipe for something called Burning Bush. That’s right: it’s a recipe with a sort-of-dirty name within a chapter with a sort-of-dirty name! And it’s being eaten by a person who will try to make double-entendres out of just about anything. What could possibly go wrong?

This recipe was filled with mystery. I needed to put on my Girl Detective hat to get to the bottom of things. Why is it called Burning Bush when it is neither burning, nor a bush? It doesn’t have any spices in it that could account for any “burning.”  It doesn’t have a particularly fiery appearance. And it doesn’t resemble ANY sort of bush that I’ve ever seen. If the name was supposed to be a reference to Mosaic tradition and mythology it really fails on every level because I’m pretty sure it isn’t kosher to mix beef and cream cheese. Was “Burning Bush” just a clever ruse perpetrated by the Cookbook Writing Peons in an attempt to get more sort-of-dirty names past the censors?

burning bush balls

And the plot thickens! I could not find a key ingredient, dried beef (a.k.a.: chipped beef), in any of the grocery stores in my area. I checked in four separate grocery chains and no one had even heard of it! If you’ve never heard of dried beef (which is not the same thing as beef jerky, by the way), here is a brief description and history lesson, courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia…

According to the Wikipedia article, dried or chipped beef is “…thinly sliced or pressed salted and dried beef. Some makers smoke the dried beef for more flavor. The modern product consists of small, thin, flexible leaves of partially dried beef, generally sold compressed together in jars or flat in plastic packets.”

The product became a staple during World War I where it was often incorporated into military diet. It continued in popularity (or notoriety) during World War II. A popular wartime dish was Chipped Beef on Toast, which consisted of rehydrated dried beef in a cream sauce spooned on top of a slice of toast (colloquially known as S.O.S., or “Shit on a Shingle”).

Well, wasn’t that educational?

But despite all my vast Internet-based knowledge, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I settled for the cheapest, most sodium-laden pressed beef slices that I could find in the deli section. The investigation MUST continue!

They actually don’t taste bad for a big ball of cream cheese, onion, and beef.  It’s an awful lot of cream cheese for one mouthful, though. Perhaps I fashioned these balls too generously. However, after consuming all of them I was no closer to discovering the secret of their perplexing name than I was when I began. The mystery continues!

jen r l disarray: girl detective
Jen R. L. Disarray: Girl Detective... in The Mystery of the Burning Bush

One final note: If you experience a mysterious burning bush on your person (or in any context other than that presented in this recipe), please consult a medical professional immediately.

Burning Bush
Season 1 3-ounce package of cream cheese with ½ teaspoon minced onion. Chill, then form into balls. Roll in minced dried beef.

The recipe featured in this post is from the Mary Margaret McBride Encyclopedia of Cooking, published by the Homemakers Research Institute in 1959.

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Jen R. L. Disarray

Jen was once described as a "culinary anthropologist". She liked that. When she is not making questionable foods, Jen enjoys reading, sassing, and lurking all over the internet. Jen has a blog called Maybe We Shouldn't Be Eating This, and she is a contributor to the Geekquality podcast and blog.

10 thoughts on “Morbid Curiosity: Cold Balls 3 – The Mystery of the Burning Bush”

  1. This is so close to my mom’s cheeseball! It uses cream cheese, green onion, garlic powder and chipped beef. She then mosaics chipped beef slices over the ball to make it look pretty and tops with an olive.

    Okay, the description sounds a bit gross, but it really is good! One of my favorite things about Christmas, since we only get it once a year.

      1. My mom’s has the chipped beef mixed with the cheese and then coating the outside of the cheeseball as well, so there’s a better beef to cheese ratio.

        Serving size probably also plays a part. Personally, I can’t imagine eating it without some sort of cracker.

  2. You found a recipe in the Cold Balls section called Burning Bush. This is … I just …
    Words cannot describe my commingled horror & joy.

    On a vaguely more serious note, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re named after the plant called burning bush (or Euonymus alatus if you don’t feel like doing an image search for “burning bush”). It’s got deep red leaves that may or may not be a similar color to chipped beef. At least I suspect the color was similar enough for the oh-so-perceptive folks who brought us Ham & Peanut Butter Balls.

    1. You could be on to something. (I couldn’t help myself, the temptation to see what Google produced in response to “burning bush” was too strong. I was surprised, it was all biblical art and pictures of red-leaved bushes)

      Do you think it’s filled with cream cheese?
      [img]http://persephonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/burning bush.jpg[/img]

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