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Meatloaf Sustained Americans During Hard Times

Meatloaf is one of our iconic comfort foods. For me, it brings back fond memories of home and my mother’s cooking.

Cooks have been making meatloaf for centuries. Food historians believe it originated in the Mediterranean around the fifth century as a dish of finely chopped meat scraps, fruits, nuts, and seasonings. As time passed, meatloaf became a way to stretch protein and use up any meat scraps and vegetables before they passed their prime.

According to food historian, Andrew Smith, the first recipe for meatloaf appeared in American cookbooks in the late 1890s. But strange as it may seem to us, in the 1890s Americans ate meatloaf for breakfast.

Meatloaf grew in popularity during the Great Depression. Home cooks combined ground meat, bread soaked in milk, vegetables, and spices to stretch the protein in their meals, feeding more mouths for less money. Meatloaf became “an everything but the kitchen sink” recipe and a way to use up ingredients while they were still fresh. The Great Depression was a time of bread lines in our country and a time when meatloaf sustained Americans.

By the 1950s, meatloaf was a staple in the American diet. In Betty Crocker’s 1958 cookbook, “365 Ways to Cook Hamburger,” there were 70 recipes for meatloaf. This dish became so entrenched in the American diet that it was an expected item on diner menus. With inflating food prices, we are all trying to stretch our food dollars. It seems like the perfect time to make meatloaf. Don’t feel tied to this recipe. Get creative. If you have veggies that are on the verge of expiration, put them into your loaf.

Although this recipe is based on my mother’s preparation, like anything I make, I have adjusted and perfected it over the years. My Meatloaf Good Enough for Company turns this ordinary entrée into a gourmet delight.

Preparing and eating meatloaf satisfies my hunger but also soothes my soul.

Meatloaf Good Enough for Company

Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and your favorite green vegetable or a Caesar salad. This ground-beef mixture also makes delicious meatballs. It will yield 2 to 3 dozen meatballs. Serve the meatballs with your favorite marinara sauce. These days we don’t want to waste anything. Leftover meat loaf makes great sandwiches. 4 tablespoons butter ¾ cup white onion, finely chopped ½ cup celery, finely chopped ½ cup green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped ½ cup red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped 2 teaspoons minced garlic ¼ cup fresh chives, finely chopped In a large heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add onion, celery, green and red bell peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add chives and continue to cook about 1 minute. Set aside to cool. Then cover and refrigerate, about 1 hour.

1 teaspoon ground cumin ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon large grind black pepper ½ teaspoon ground white pepper 3 eggs, well beaten ½ cup ketchup ½ cup half-and-half 2 pounds lean ground beef chuck (if not available, use lean ground beef) 1 pound country-style sausage ¾ cup fine breadcrumbs Reserved vegetables Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, black and white peppers, and eggs and beat. Add ketchup and half-and-half. Blend thoroughly. Add ground beef, sausage, and breadcrumbs to the egg mixture. Then add the reserved vegetables and mix thoroughly with your hands, kneading for several minutes. Form the mixture into an oval, approximately 15 X 5 X 3 inches, resembling a long loaf of bread. Place meat in a baking dish and place the dish inside a larger pan. Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Pour boiling water into the larger pan until it reaches halfway up the side of the baking dish.

Place both dishes in the oven and bake for approximately 60 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let meatloaf set for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Garnish with parsley.

Thoughts on making meatloaf: I have found that using country-style pork sausage along with ground beef yields a more moist, tender meatloaf. If you use very lean meat, like ground chicken or turkey, your meatloaf will be drier. I like adding cayenne pepper, white pepper, and cumin along with salt and black pepper because I like a zingier flavor. In addition, I sauté the veggies I add in butter. Moist, cooked vegetables versus uncooked veggies will yield a more tender, moist loaf. If you don’t like cooking with butter, substitute olive oil.

Cooking tip: To prevent meatloaf from cracking, try rubbing a small amount of water on the top and sides before placing it in the oven. Tips on storing ground beef: When exposed to oxygen, ground beef will become a rosy-red color. Sometimes you may find the center of a package of ground beef has darkened. This is not harmful. This is the result of lack of exposure to oxygen. If you have concerns about ground beef, check the smell. I should be fresh, not sour, and the meat should feel moist not slimy.

Carol Ann        

Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at and explore her website,

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates

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