Make Ahead

The 3-Generation Meat Loaf and a Glimpse Back in Time

December 27, 2013
0 Ratings
Photo by Family
  • Makes 1 loaf ~ 1 pound
Author Notes

My mom and dad came of age in a big city during the depression. Like many of that generation, my dad had to work to help support the family and wasn't able to finish high school. Later he worked in Oregon clearing land and building roads as part of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp that preceded the WPA). My mom was very proud that not only did she complete high school, but went on to business school to become a comptometer operator. She worked as a bookkeeper for a cola bottling company. They met in the shadow of WWII and married. He joined the Navy, and after a bunch of exams, the Navy sent him to Purdue to study electronics. He was assigned as an electrician's mate on the USS Nicholas in the Pacific.

The war ended, my dad came home and then, there I was, among the first wave of baby boomers and the first generation to grow up with TV. Because of the training he received courtesy of the Navy, my dad returned as an electrician/assembler at the sign and signal manufacturer he retired from many years later.

We lived in the 2nd floor apartment of my grandparent's 2-flat so my earliest food memories spanned two generations' style of cooking. My gramma learned to cook from her mom and never wrote down any of the recipes. I mostly remember her sauerbraten, sülze, plum kuchen, Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, sausage and apple stuffing, homemade gravy, blaukraut...), giant flat egg pancakes rolled up with jelly inside, and grampa's garlic sausage and onions.

Now, to be honest, my mom wasn't a "natural" cook, nor did she seem to enjoy cooking all that much. She returned to work part time and, with a bookkeeper's methodical and precise manner, looked for tasty and time-saving recipes like the pressure cooker Beef Stew right out of her model '40' recipe book (another 3-genreation favorite we all make).

Also among the recipes she found was Hunt's "Dutch Meat Loaf." (As part of product promotions during the late '40s - '60s, Hunt's published a series of recipes in ads, recipe cards, and even matchbooks.) But it was my dad who always made The Meat Loaf for us and he morphed it into the version I pay homage to today.

The Meat Loaf was one of my favorites as a kid and a favorite of our kids as they were growing up. And, for some reason, guys seem to like making The Meat Loaf almost as much as eating it. Now my husband always makes The Meat Loaf (he adds some green pepper), and the post-graduate students that room with us like it as much as our family does. In fact, the guys who stay with us request the recipe more often than the gals. All four of our kids have been making The Meat Loaf since they were teens. And, as a further testament to "its yumminess" our younger daughter points out that while her boyfriend "puts sriracha on everything, he never puts it on The Meat Loaf!"

This is not a "standard" meatloaf. It's looser and moister. It's not packed into a loaf pan to bake, but shaped into a loaf by hand. Then it's baked and basted a few times with the tangy sauce. Leftovers make tasty sandwiches but be sure to slather the slices with extra sauce. And don't even think about ketchup in its presence. If you need more than a 1-lb loaf, you can mix up a double recipe but be sure to divide the meat mixture into two separate loaves to retain that perfect sauce to loaf ratio.

What You'll Need
  • The Loaf
  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (2 slices fresh bread; coarse crumbs)
  • 1 small onion, minced (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced celery
  • 1/2 of an 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow prepared mustard
  • The Sauce
  • 1/2 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 can water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons yellow prepared mustard
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  1. The Loaf
  2. Toss beef and bread crumbs together loosely but thoroughly. Blend in remaining ingredients. Form into a loaf.
  3. Place in a shallow baking dish and put in preheated 350-degree F oven while preparing the sauce.
  1. The Sauce
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the other half can of tomato sauce, water, brown sugar, mustard, and vinegar. Heat to boiling, stirring or whisking to blend thoroughly.
  3. Pour sauce over meatloaf and continue baking 1 hour longer, basting with the sauce after 30 minutes.
  4. Note: If doubling quantity, form into two separate loaves and bake in two separate 8-inch square baking dishes

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • aeisenhowerturnbull
  • jph
  • Lobstr89
  • Pegeen

6 Reviews

jph January 26, 2014
Yes, please find those recipes and use them (and post them here to share!) I had very little left of actual written recipes (just a handful) but have managed to recreate much the comfort food I remember from both my mom and gramma and grampa (thank you internet)...mostly simple stuff...comfort food (eggs & noodles, creamed hamburger on toast...a variation on SOS, and the garlic sausage & onions-no brainer)and the "moose" (you don't want to know), the Thanksgiving stuffing, and believe it or not, mom's recipe for liver and onions (a Campbell's condensed thing).
jph January 26, 2014
Wow...paper moon...what a perfect description. When I was a kid, Riverview at Belmont & Western (Chicago) seemed magical. I remember riding several buses from the south side for what seemed forever with my grandma to visit during the day in the summer and driving with my parents for an amazing night-time outing.
jph January 26, 2014
My husband chuckled when I told him about your comment...The Meat Loaf really is a guy-magnet. A tidbit to add to the story (it was a bit too long, I admit): My grampa was a brewer and made beer in the, during prohibition. He and all his brothers were sent to the US by his dad when he saw WWI on the horizon...they stayed with an aunt who ran a vacation resort (cottages) in Wisconsin. Golly, what a different world it was back in the day!
Lobstr89 January 23, 2014
Thank you for sharing your recipe and story! Your recipe popped up just as I was getting ready to make meatloaf so I decided to try it. Husband absolutely loved did I!
This will be our new favorite. Thanks again!!
aeisenhowerturnbull January 10, 2014
Thanks for sharing these great recipe! The story is touching, and reminds me of my grandparents. I know my mother has recipes like this from my grandmother, I just need to dig them out. Thanks for the inspiration!
Pegeen December 30, 2013
jph, your photographs and write-up are wonderful. The "paper moon" photo is a treasure. And the meatloaf sounds wonderful - I'll be trying it soon. Thank you for sharing these touching stories and memories.