Wednesday, November 11, 2009

From A Meatloaf-Deprived Childhood

Mom didn't make meatloaf very often - thank goodness. I ate pretty much everything when I was a kid, and No did too. But the meatloaf was thick and tough and pretty boring, as far as flavor went, and even though I didn't like ketchup very much when I was a kid, I often poured a lot of the stuff on my slice. I realized later that Mom made meatloaf the way she made hamburgers, which would make sense: Mom makes the best hamburgers of anyone. But take an enormous burger and put it in a casserole dish, and allow it to bake in its own grease, and it's not a very good hamburger anymore.

I thought Mom made the worst meatloaf in the world until I had Denver D's mom's meatloaf. Phil and I were dropping Denver D off in Denver on our way to Colorado Springs, having driven from Tacoma. His folks had already eaten, but we were offered some leftovers to make the last 90 minutes of our two-day drive. Phil had had food poisoning the whole trip, so he got chicken broth, and Denver D and I got meatloaf.

His mom's meatloaf was like a piece of plywood in consistency and color. It was the kind of food that you have to drink some water after very bite to get it to slide down your throat. I remembered the ketchup trick from my childhood, and went to the fridge to get some. They had no ketchup! They did have some barbecue sauce, and I poured it all over my slice of meatloaf. I never remember the brand, but I always recognize the bottle in the grocery store, and am loyal to it because it made that meatloaf edible.

I did not eat anyone's meatloaf for years after that. When I was working at the Women's Daytime Drop-In Center in Berkeley, a place for homeless women with children to hang out during the day when the overnight shelters were closed, it happened that there were clients who were fantastic cooks. Each morning a few clients would volunteer to cook lunch for everyone, and I would hang out in the kitchen sometimes and watch. I told a couple of them that I came from a meatloaf-deprived background; while I knew from books that meatloaf could be good, my mom and my mother-out-law made terrible meatloaf and I hadn't had anyone who could teach me by positive example how to make it.

They laughed and bid me watch while they made a couple big meatloaves with ground beef, oatmeal, eggs, sauteed onions and peppers, grated cheese, ketchup, and seasonings. They formed the meat into loaves and placed them on cookie trays - not casseroles, much to my surprise: You cook bread in loaf pans, so I figured you had to cook meatloaf in loaf pans too. It was explained to me that this way the grease runs off and doesn't poach the meat, so you get a nice crust. At some point one of them pulled the trays out and, using a spoon, painted the loaves with ketchup.

Needless to say, this was the only meatloaf I had ever had that I liked. Eventually I got around to making my own, following their example exactly. I collected meatloaf recipes for awhile, but I've gotten enough practice that I make it different ways depending on what vegetables are in the fridge, if and how much cheese we have, and usually with ground turkey and pork sausage.

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