The first recorded recipe for the modern American meatloaf is from the late 1870s, according to the food historian Andrew Smith, who told us that it instructed the cook to finely chop “whatever cold meat you have.” That meat, he said, would likely be beef, because New Englanders killed their cows before winter, when feeding them would prove more difficult, and tried to take full advantage of every last bit of the meat, looking for uses for the cheap cuts. Meatloaf was such a use.
Meatloaf became a staple of many Americans’ diets during the Depression, because it helped home cooks extend precious protein farther than it might otherwise go, so that more people could be fed with less meat. By then meat grinders were common and meat grinding less difficult, two developments that helped to popularize meatloaf. In the 1940s meatloaf was an emblem of wartime ingenuity; this was the era of Penny Prudence’s “Vitality Loaf,” made with beef, pork and liver. The Culinary Arts Institute published a recipe for Savory Meat Loaf that called for beef, vegetable soup and cereal.
Americans love the tradition of Meatloaf
By the 1950s, meatloaf was here to stay. Betty Crocker had recipes, which home cooks tweaked. A 1958 book, 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger, included 70 recipes for meatloaf, and while you won’t find nearly that many in our book, that’s because some of those 70 went a bit wild, advocating smashed bananas, for example, or ketchup-filled peach halves. (We’ve exercised more restraint.) Meatloaf became an expected option at American diners. It never made inroads like that into upscale restaurants, but every now and then, an ambitious chef will sneak it onto his or her menu, either presenting it in some exalted form or keeping it simple and serving it as an act of nostalgia, as a gesture of respect for a food that so ably sustained Americans through hard times.
We both feel that when we cook meatloaf, we’re connected to something bigger: a tradition, a time line. Meatloaf is elemental. It’s enduring. And if comfort foods are those that are not only an answer to hunger but also an existential balm, served without undue fuss or expensive implements, then meatloaf rules the category. It reigns supreme. It’s the fluffy caftan of comfort foods.
And it’s easy to make!
1-1/2 pounds Ground Beef (93% lean or leaner)
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup ketchup, divided
1/2 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
How to Cook
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine Ground Beef, bread crumbs, 1/2 cup ketchup, onion, egg, Worcestershire, garlic, thyme, pepper and salt in large bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Shape beef into 8 x 4-inch loaf on rack in aluminum foil-lined broiler pan.
Place on upper oven rack in 350°F oven. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 160°F; brush with remaining 1/4 cup ketchup during last 10 minutes, if desired. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut into slices.
Gather all of your ingredients at Morton Williams. Stop in or shop online for delivery.
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