Meatloaf

The American meatloaf is the evolutionary result of the American industrialization of the slaughterhouse. Industrialization brought down the cost of meats and promoted the distribution of meat products across the nation. For decades, carcasses in whole, half or quarter cuts were shipped from central points to any city or butcher shop. Times change and the modern version of shipping meats is more specialized, with specific parts aggregated into one package and shipped in cardboard boxes. Only specialty butcher shops work with whole carcasses today. Within this business structure, meatloaf is one of the most economical meat dishes that can be assembled at home.

Meatloaf is part of a minced meat tradition that goes back at least two millennia. The Romans had a recipe. With the technology of a knife or a cleaver with a durable sharp edge, even the toughest and most undesirable meats could be reduced to good, tasty recipes. The most difficult cuts (ears, nose, and tails) were processed into sausages but the tough pieces of muscle could be made tender too by fine dicing. Minced meat recipes can be found in every culture but the variations of meatloaf, using the meats and ingredients at hand, are favored dishes in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Near East. In Lebanon, the dish will be minced lamb or lamb mixed with beef as kofte while in the Philippines, a dish called embotido and is made from ground pork stuffed with hardboiled eggs. The variations of minced meat recipes across the world depend on the availability of inexpensive ingredients in the local economy.

The American Meatloaf gained prominence in home kitchens during the Great Depression, after the 1928 Stock Market Crash. Rationing during WWII confirmed its status as a gut filling dish that could be served using many variations. The recipe of minced meat could be stretched with breadcrumbs of any bread, stale cereal, or crushed crackers. Saltines were popular. The dish could be enhanced with ketchup, jelly, barbeque sauce, mashed potatoes, and spices. Even more, immigrant traditions could add their own flair to the minced meat dish.

The United States is a melting pot and meatloaf is a unique example. The mid-twentieth century witnessed the rise of advice columnists, who began as a staple in immigrant newspapers on matters of assimilation and who evolved into a nationwide ethos of community and behavior. Ann Landers and Dear Abby, competing sisters, were some of the most trusted voices in American print during their tenures. Ann Landers printed her meatloaf recipe in her column and the dish became an enduring sensation. In the decades since, Ann Lander’s recipe (or some near variation) has become the American meatloaf:

Ingredients

2 pounds ground beef

1 egg

1 1/2 cup bread crumbs

3/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon Accent® seasoning mix

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry onion soup mix

2 slices bacon

1 can (8 ounce size) tomato sauce

 

Mix all the ingredients except for the bacon and the tomato sauce. Form a loaf and place in pan. Lay bacon on top and pour sauce over the loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

First, the recipe is not kosher or halal. Second, Accent and onion soup mixes are high quantity MSG products, which makes the dish particularly tasty, yet makes it untenable for those avoiding MSG. Most of the ingredients are bagged, boxed, or canned too. Only the egg and the beef need to be fresh, making this recipe clearly rooted in the supermarket cuisine of the mid to late twentieth century.

For a current recipe, the history of meatloaf points to a dish of minced meat and local ingredients; local, as in what is in your refrigerator. Instead of dry mixes, add the liquid from leftover soup or broth. Add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a raw egg. If you don’t have stale bread to turn into breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes work great with a little elbow grease. Any ground meat will do, from beef, pork, and lamb to turkey, chicken, wild game or fowl. Along with salt and pepper, any typical spice combination in the cabinet will work.

As a dish, meatloaf ingredients are flexible to your tastes and traditions. Jalapenos on top – why not? Some European recipes stuff the loaf with olives, East Europeans stuff with hardboiled eggs like the Filipinos do.

Use your hands to mix this recipe. If you want to cook the fat out by letting it pool in the pan, then use less breadcrumbs.

If you want to freeze the dish for later, only cook for ½ hour. Let cool and wrap in freezer paper. Use within six months. Defrost overnight in refrigerator and cook for ½ hour (@ 350) to serve.

 

Basic Meatloaf

2 lbs ground meats

1 egg

1 cup of broth

2 TBS grape must* (Italian Saba) and 2 TBS red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups breadcrumbs

1-2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp each: basil, thyme and celery seed

Tomato sauce or any gravy

 

Mix in one ingredient at a time (all spices together though), leaving tomato sauce aside. Form loaf and place in greased bread pan. Pour tomato sauce on top and cook 1 hour at 350 degrees. Recipe doubles easily.

*thickened grape juice

Entitlement

The wretched word of the week is ENTITLEMENT. Two gross examples of entitlement on parade this week from a pool of possibilities are the ongoing primary race of Donald Trump and the shooting massacre of eight people, two adults and six children thirteen and under, in Houston. The elements of character that have driven the candidate and the murderer to act are sadly much the same.

The Donald is entertaining is follow, like watching videos of car crashes in Russia where wary people keep dash cams running while driving. This was a man who declared part of his success in the 1990’s was business advice from his father never to sign contracts, letting someone else take the fall. He showed himself rapacious and repugnant, and proud of it. Many new and interesting business ventures later, Donald Trump is purchasing a slot in the Republican primary by running for president on his own dime. He is entitled to do so and only someone with a heavy dose of entitlement would. If he has to spend $50 per actor to fill the lobby when he makes his announcement that he was running, then that is how a businessman should market himself. It worked, did it not? A few thousand dollars got him the first slot at the first primary debate.

His behavior at the debate was outrageous. Among his accusations during and following the broadcast are these three: 1) Fox News is a propaganda machine. 2) The Republican Party apparatus is an elite national political mafia. 3) The other candidates are empty suits pandering to obtuse elements of the reactionary far-right of the political spectrum. He called out everyone involved with these accusations in one form or another. He did so with grand gestures of self-earned indignation and mega-millions infused entitlement.

In the same vein of self-earned indignation but without the money, David Conley took a gun and shot  to death his ex-wife, her new husband, Conley’s son, and his ex-wife’s other five children, filling some of the bodies with multiple gunshots. This woman had embarrassed him by walking away and divorcing him. He was entitled to anything and everything that he wanted. When that woman who he owned by the vow of marriage repudiated his ownership, he killed her and his poisoned progeny who acquiesced to her way of thinking.

Mr. Conley was entitled to do with them as he chose because he owned them. They were his property no matter what the law or another man said. His lack and loss gave him permission to act with the most extreme violence, which he justified as his right and due. He was not a man who acted out impulsively or in the heat of the moment either. This act was the culmination of a steadily stoked, well-tended indignation blown out of all proportion. Keep in mind, Mr. Conley acted with due deliberation.

In literature, the villain is easily identifiable by an overarching trait of entitlement, a form of hubris. The difference between literature and real life is that in literature we find satisfaction when the villain is forced to capitulate and exit stage right. Unlike reality, authors, composers, and playwrights tidy up the ending or at least close it with finality, a fairytale we can all appreciate.

The aftermath of someone acting out their sense of entitlement is messy, inarticulate, and usually not resolved in any satisfying manner. Some people in Houston are going to walk through the excruciating exercise of burying an entire family. The news channels will be filled with bloviating bad hair and overheated repartee. Entitlement is one of the most destructive elements of the human character and as an element, appears to have risen to heightened precedence in American culture of late.

A little humility and self-responsibility would be a nice antidote. However, these sorts of headlines do not appear typically in the newspaper or among the aspiring presidential candidates at the debates. In the end we must re-impose the lesson that a good name can only be earned, it cannot be purchased or taken by force.