Meat loaf Season is Upon Us

During the last few weeks most of my reading has been catalogs, great piles of them, all devoted to solving the most perplexing “what to give for Christmas” problem. While I was looking through Williams Sonoma’s cookware I couldn’t help but wonder what people in the 1800s would make of some of their wares: the Combination Convection and Microwave Oven, the Electric Crepe Maker, or the Bread Machine.


How would they deal with the Acme Juice Extractor, or the Four-Slice Toaster?

After President Millard Fillmore took office in 1850, one of the more notable achievements of his short term was to order a huge coal and wood stove for the White House kitchens. According to all accounts, the cooks were outraged and took off their aprons and stormed out of the kitchen exclaiming, “This newfangled contraption…..!”

The President was forced to call in an expert from the U.S. Patent Office to explain the intricacies of the new stove.

An interesting side to this story is that in 1833, the head of the Patent Office, John D. Craig, wanted to resign because he believed that everything “seems to have been done.” (Numbered patents were first issued in 1836, and by the year 1900, 640,166 patents had been granted.)

Kitchen gadgets and utensils peaked around 1870 as food preparation moved from the hearth to “that newfangled contraption” — the iron stove.

I’m not sure when the meat loaf came into existence, but my best guess that an accommodating iron stove oven made it possible. This particular recipe is one of many variations on the theme, from Richard Sax who wrote “Get In There And Cook!”

Diner-Style Meat Loaf
(Serves 6)

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped carrot
  • 1 chopped celery rib
  • 1 scallion halved and sliced
  • 4 or 5 white mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch of dried thyme, or 1 tsp. chopped fresh leaves
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • Few drops of Tabasco
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup soft fresh breadcrumbs
  • ¾ pounds each of ground beef and pork

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, carrot, celery, scallion, mushrooms and garlic; sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Sauté, tossing occasionally with a wooden spoon until the vegetables soften. Transfer this to a plate.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the ketchup, Tabasco, beaten eggs and parsley. Stir in the bread crumbs. Add the ground beef and pork, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Combine all of these ingredients with your fingers, handling it lightly. Add the vegetable mixture, mixing lightly until just combined.

Pack this mixture into a loaf pan, first spraying the pan lightly. Smooth the surface on top, making it slightly higher in the center. Rub the surface with a teaspoon of olive oil.

Bake until the meat loaf is lightly golden. A skewer inserted in the center should feel hot, usually after about 1 hour. Remove any excess juices. Let the loaf stand for 5 or 10 minutes, then unmold and cut into thick slices.

Cook’s note: This makes a delicious midweek supper, together with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable, plus tiny sour gherkins that offset the richness of the meat.

This basic tomato sauce is excellent served over the meat loaf — or over a plate of pasta.

Chunky Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 lbs. canned or fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of dried thyme or oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsps. finely shredded fresh basil (optional)

Heat the butter and oil, add the onion and sauté until wilted. Add the garlic, then the tomatoes. Use salt to taste, bay leaf and the thyme or oregano. Cook, uncovered, over medium high heat until it reduces to a thick puree, 15 or 20 minutes. Stir often.

Remove the bay leaf before serving; add additional pepper and salt if needed, the parsley and fresh basil.


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