I have a theory.
Everybody has a story (or two) about meatloaf.
Maybe it’s a tale of dinner gone horribly wrong — a meatloaf undercooked, overcooked or not cooked at all. Or a a memory of a discomforting mealtime featuring America’s most popular comfort food. Or maybe the smell of meatloaf takes you back to your grandmother’s kitchen, a place where a hug and a home-cooked meal healed all hurts.
According to The Atlantic, the modern meatloaf is an American invention that began appearing on dinner tables around the 1940s. Depression-era sensibilities and wartime rationing forced home cooks to get creative, as they sought to economize while still serving hearty, tasty and nutritious meals to their families. The simple meatloaf recipe was born.
And isn’t that still the reason we serve meatloaf today? It’s a budget-friendly dish that you serve when the weather is dreary or when you’re craving comfort or you need something that will stick to their ribs with enough leftovers for sandwiches tomorrow. It is the ultimate centerpiece for a meat-and-two meal.
I still remember one chilly day almost a quarter century ago when my mama cooked up a homemade meatloaf. In that last hour before Daddy got home from work, the smell from the kitchen kept teasing us.
By the time the table was set and our plates were filled, our bellies were rumbling.
Almost in unison, the five of us grabbed our forks and dug in.
I was expecting nirvana on my tastebuds. But from the first bite, I could tell that something was not quite right.
If you have never tasted undercooked ground beef, I’m not sure I can adequately describe how truly disgusting it is. Besides, I do not want to make you gag over your morning coffee or your meatloaf.
As we sat around the dinner table that night, Mama realized it, and so did my brothers. We moved on to the bread and veggies on our plate, skirting the meatloaf with our forks. But Daddy kept right on eating it until he had cleaned his plate.
“The meatloaf sure was good tonight,” he said.
We couldn’t help but laugh. And wonder about his sanity, or at least his palate.
It was a long time before any of the rest of us could eat meatloaf again, and longer still before Mama made it again.
But to this day, whenever meatloaf is served in her house or mine, someone always says, “The meatloaf sure was good tonight.”
I am not the only one who has been betrayed by meatloaf.
My husband’s grandmother was a fine country cook. A school lunch lady who once taught the needy in her community how to make home-cooked meals.
You didn’t want to turn down an invitation to her house for supper.
Grandma Buchanan was a member of the original meatloaf generation. She was a survivor of the Depression who never forgot those lean times. When she cleaned out the refrigerator, she dumped everything in a pot, not the trash can.
Which leads me to the infamous meatloaf incident.
She’d invited the family over for Sunday lunch at her small mountain apartment. Bruce and his parents were anticipating a delicious home-cooked meal, as they had come to expect from Grandma’s kitchen.
Instead, they got meatloaf Frankenstein. Odd bits and pieces of leftovers appeared throughout the loaf, including strips of stale bologna. And oh, the smell…
Bruce and his parents pushed the pinkish loaf around on their plates, hoping to fool grandma into thinking they were eating it. Thankfully, Grandma Buchanan rescued the meal with her legendary homemade applesauce pie. (Perhaps we will share this recipe some day.)
The topic of the Frankenstein meatloaf always comes up in dinner conversation whenever Bruce’s mom serves her much more mainstream and palatable meatloaf.
I have probably talked you out of ever eating meatloaf again with my stories.
But that would be such a shame.
Because then you wouldn’t get to try my recipe for Easy Homemade Meatloaf, which is guaranteed to make your supper guest clean their plates.
As long as you don’t undercook it or add bologna and mystery meat to the mix.
Do you have a fun or heartwarming story about meatloaf? I’d love to read it. Please share in the comments. Do you have a simple meatloaf recipe I should try? Feel free to share it.
Easy Homemade Meatloaf
For the meatloaf
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- ½ to ¾ cup oatmeal
- 1 small onion diced
- 1 green or red pepper diced (optional)
- 1 egg beaten
- ½ cup ketchup
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Sauce
- ½ cup ketchup
- 2 TBS brown sugar
- 1 TBS mustard
- 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
- 1 TBS vinegar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine the ground beef, oatmeal, onion, diced pepper, egg, ½ cup ketchup and salt and pepper. Mix with hands, and transfer to a 9-inch loaf pan.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire and vinegar. Pour sauce over the top of the meatloaf.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1½ hours, until done.
All measurements are approximations. When making a meatloaf, I may add more or less oatmeal or ketchup to achieve the right consistency. You want the mixture to retain a loaf form without being too dry or too wet.