Meatloaf is an American classic, but where did this dish originate?
There are a number of theories, but some maintain it is a fifth century Mediterranean creation. The first meatloaf recipes contained meat scraps (or meat that was about to spoil), fruits, nuts and seasonings.
The Roman cookbook "Apicius" offered a recipe for chopped meat, bread and wine.
The first recorded meatloaf recipe in America appeared in the 1870s. Interestingly, meatloaf was, at that time, a breakfast food.
It wasn’t until the 1890s that meatloaf became more popular. Industrial meat packers ground meat scraps into a mixture that could be used for burgers, meatballs or meatloaf.
Meatloaf became a favorite way of incorporating protein in the diet during the Depression. A lot of Americans were out of work. Some suffered during the Dust Bowl or stock market crash. Cooks could extend their limited quantities of meat into more meals by adding breadcrumbs, crackers, milk, oatmeal and eggs.
Meatloaf became a signature wartime dish during the '40s. It was a popular WW II entree and became part of the “Health for Victory” campaign, a movement that taught homemakers how to provide good nutrition when there was a shortage of staples like meat.
By the 1950s, Betty Crocker published 70 recipes for meatloaf in a book titled "365 Ways to Cook Hamburger." Some seemed strange, calling for mashed bananas or spicy peaches and ketchup combinations.
Meatloaf made a frequent appearance on my family’s dinner table in the '50s and '60s. It was cheap and the entire family liked it. Sometimes, my dad would take a meatloaf sandwich in his lunch pail, if he was working on a job that kept him from coming home for the day.
Meatloaf remains popular today. Chefs have offered their own twists by adding exotic ingredients to the meat mixture making it fancier than the classic recipe my mother used.
Last week, I made a Philly Cheese Meatloaf, because I still have beautiful peppers in my garden. The meatloaf was delicious straight from the pan, but I can imagine my father would have enjoyed a slice on a sandwich, too.
Philly Cheese Meatloaf
1 medium onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound ground chuck
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 slices Provolone cheese
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a skillet, sauté the onion and pepper slices in oil until tender. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine ground chuck, breadcrumbs, egg, salt and pepper, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce.
Place half of this mixture into a loaf pan. Top with the sautéed sliced onion and peppers. Place 3 slices of Provolone on top of the onions and peppers. Cover the cheese with the remaining ground chuck. Place the remaining 3 slices of Provolone on top of the final meat layer.
Bake meatloaf for 45 minutes. (The internal temperature of the loaf should be 165°.)
Allow the meatloaf to cool for at least 5 minutes, before slicing and serving.