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~ The Story of Humble, Homey All-American Meatloaf ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebe821970bThe fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth and rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebc11f970b"Meatloaf."  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, even in the company of culinary professionals, and you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Once a Depression era meal to help home cooks stretch precious protein to feed more people, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style meal or a culinary masterpiece fit for a king.

The industrial revolution placed meatloaf squarely on America's foodie road map -- the invention of the hand-crank (and later the electric/automated), meat grinder was historic. 

According to The Oxford Companion to Food:  Meatloaf is a dish whose visibility is considerably higher in real life than in cookery books.  This situation might be changed if it had a fancy French name (pâté chad de viand hachée, préalablement marinée dans du vin de pays et des aromatiques).  In the USA, the term was recorded in print in 1899, in Britain, 1939.  The use of the word 'loaf' is appropriate as most recipes include a portion of a loaf of bread, usually in the from of soft, fresh breadcrumbs.  Also, meatloaf is shaped like a loaf of bread, typically baked in a loaf pan, and sliced like a loaf of bread.  It is a worthy dish that embodies the word peasant (rustic), but can also exhibit refinement associated with bourgeois (upper middle-class) cookery.  Meatloaf does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine (artful or imaginative cuisine).

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2762b6a970cA bit about grinding meat:  While the thankless task of mincing meat has been going on since ancient times, Karl Drais, a German aristocrat, is credited with inventing the cast-iron, hand-crank meat grinder in 1785.  This portable, countertop appliance made it possible for frugal home cooks to take advantage of its economic, time-saving benefits:  

1) Ground meat feeds more people.  2) Grinding meat makes tough, lesser expensive cuts of meat more palatable and easier to digest.  3)  Combining and grinding small pieces of various types of meat together makes a meal of otherwise useless leftovers.

^^^ Nowadays, grinding your own meat is even easier than this.  Trim it of unnecessary fat, cut it into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and pulse it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebc36f970bA bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving meatloaf 6a0120a8551282970b01bb098f8068970dinto its current  state:  homey, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, as feeding them was difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just beef.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d276b9c9970cA bit about my family's "special" meatloaf: My grandmother and mother used saltine cracker crumbs in place of fresh or dried breadcrumbs in a whole host of recipes.  Truth told: Saltines, when moistened in milk until soft, are:  more flavorful than breadcrumbs, and, they maintain a bit of texture too. Their pantries were never without a box and neither is mine.  There's more:  

Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively, never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf in any of my family's kitchens.  Neither of them ever glazed their meatloaf with anything either.  That said:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e21491200bOn nights when mom was serving meatloaf with mashed potatoes, mom would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of beef broth to whip up some brown gravy to drizzle over the top.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with macaroni and cheese, she would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of stewed tomatoes to drizzle over the top.  We called it: Mom's stewed-tomato gravy.

Try My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cOr my Mexican-Style Ground Beef & Chorizo Meatloaf:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4999b0e200dOr a Super Fix-Quick Bowling Night Meatloaf recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a9986d200bOr, just Cut-to-the-Chase and Make Meatloaf Burgers:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ff43b0200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)


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