Meatloaf Through the Years – A Taste Test

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This recipe calls for you to take a piece of pork and a piece of beef and grind them together. That recipe would lose most of today’s home cooks right there on the first ingredient!

This post is part of the series, “The History in My Grandmother’s Recipe Boxes“.  It is not so much about the food and recipes as it is about the history and commentary on the times.  There are, however, some great recipes!

The Meat section of Gram’s recipe boxes contains more meatloaf recipes than any other item.  Meatballs was a close second.  There has to be at least a dozen recipes, spanning from the 1930’s to the 1990’s.  Some came from newspaper clippings, some from friends and one peculiar mystery that appears to come from my Aunt Mary but someone crossed out Mary’s name and wrote that it was from her sister, Pat.  I’ll get to the bottom of that one.

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This handwritten recipe–from the apple-flavored category–was initially credited to my Aunt Mary but her name was crossed out and Aunt Pat’s was written in. It could have been an honest correction, Aunt Pat was not one to take credit for someone else’s work; but, one cannot rule out the work of a mischievous brother (my father) trying to make trouble!

I laid all the meatloaf recipes out on the counter and reviewed the differences.  There were a few items they all had in common.  All called for an onion, at least one egg, salt and pepper and of course meat.

There was also a few item types common to all with variations in what was used.  For example, all called for some sort of breading–usually breadcrumbs–but variations included cracker crumbs, oatmeal, and rice.

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I would create three representative meat loaves of each style and host a blind taste test for family and friends.

I put each recipe in one of three categories.  One was meatloaf at its most basic, almost generic version.  Most of these recipes had the title “Savory Meat Loaf”.

There were a number of recipes with variation in breading, flavoring, and additional ingredients.  I made a representative composite of these.

Finally, there were several versions that used apples or applesauce as a flavoring and that inclusion of the sweetness from apples intrigued me so that became a separate category.

I would create a meatloaf from each category and serve up a  blind taste test to my family and a couple neighbors.

The magic of Gram’s recipes:  The results were not only interesting but fun.  There was spirited debate on favorites, stories told, guessing on ingredients, and lively conversation of the family-dinner-table-variety.  More than a solid meatloaf recipe, what I am finding in these boxes is some of the close-knit family bonds that we associate with the past.  If my grandmother had any idea that filing a meatloaf recipe from 1943 would generate a cheerful evening of enjoyment more than 70 years, she’d be ticked pink and would say, “Isn’t that grand!”

Catsup vs. Ketchup

All of the recipes that called for it referred to it as “catsup”.  Curious, I did a little research  (i.e., I googled it.)  I learned that both words are derived from a Chinese sauce called “ke-tsiap”.  Relieved to know there was no connection to cats, I had a suspicion that “ketchup” was a trade name created by Heinz; that is not the case.  In fact, the original Heinz sauce was called catsup and was later changed to ketchup.  Both words were used from the very beginning as an attempt to create an English word that sounded like the Chinese name.  Ultimately “ketchup” simply became the American preferred term but both are considered appropriate to this day.

So here are the three recipes and the comments and votes they received.

Meatloaf #1 – Basic Savory Meatloaf

This was the version that was most representative of the basic savory meatloaf.  The older the recipe the blander it was and the more reflective of how they didn’t have expensive, out-of-season, exotic ingredients readily available like we do today.

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Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson and your representative recipe for meatloaf of the 1940’s.

For my version I used cooked rice as described in the recipe above and I would not do that again.  It took away from the “meatloaf” quality and was too visible, making it look more like a casserole (another plentiful category in Gram’s files).  I did use the evaporated milk as the liquid, and the poultry seasoning as the flavoring.  It had a mixture of beef and pork, about 3 to 1.

This was the least favorite of the group and in my opinion it was a combination of flavor and texture.  The mixture was rather watery going into the oven and I suspect that caused it to steam more than roast.  The result was no browning or caramelization.  The lack of any other flavors made the poultry seasoning so pronounced that dinner guests were commenting that there was “too much sage”, and it was “too herbal in flavor”. It suggests to me a good reason why my grandmother was constantly seeking to update her meatloaf recipe.

Meatloaf #2 – Using Oatmeal for breading, and a mixture of beef and pork

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This recipe came from a friend named Odessa Gamache, a classic French Canadian name. It called for Quaker oats as the breading, as did several others. I was interested to see what effect that had.

The use of oats interested me and I wanted to see if it had a cereal flavor, or if the oats were recognizable in the meatloaf.  Neither of those happened.  The texture was really nice and this recipe was a close second to Meatloaf #3 in popularity.  I also used chopped green bell peppers in this one and they added a nice flavor element.  Additional flavor was added by ketchup and yellow mustard, humble ingredients but they made a difference.  This recipe had the exact same amount of poultry seasoning as #1 but it did not come through as strong, perhaps because of other flavor elements.

Here is the recipe I used.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup milk, scalded
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tbs yellow mustard

Scald the milk (that is, heat it just short of a boil) and pour it in a bowl over the cup of oats and let them cool.

Add all remaining ingredients, put in a greased loaf pan, and roast at 350° for 1 hour.

Meatloaf #3 – Using Apples as Flavoring

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Ironically, the one meatloaf recipe on Gram’s pig recipe cards did not call for pork!
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I love the warning at the end. The recipe uses an apple in the meatloaf so for God’s sake serve a non-apple dessert!

This recipe was representative enough of the category that I made it as written.  It was the favorite among almost all of my guests and had a great flavor.  The sugar in the apples created a caramelization that caused people to guess ingredients like teriyaki, Worcestershire, and barbecue sauce.  The meat is all beef, no pork and the texture was closer to a hamburger than the other two and less “loafy”.

It’s a fairly recent recipe, coming from 1988 and it shows.  None of the recipes from the 30’s and 40’s call for such powerful flavors like garlic, fresh parsley, and horseradish.  It also called for three eggs and no other liquid which I think had a lot to do with the texture.  The conclusion of the group was that this was “how meatloaf should taste”.  It was my personal favorite as well.  While the green bell peppers made for an attractive presentation they did not add discernible flavor.

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The recipe is attributed to Lib Andrews and I wondered if that was a friend or neighbor but I later found a newspaper clipping of a column called “Cooking with Lib” with this recipe.

I hope this motivates you to try your own perfect recipe to reflect what you grew up with or what flavors you appreciate.  Please be sure and let me know if you do!

π

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