Friday, April 17, 2015

Molly's Vitality Meat Loaf

Which, shockingly, does not photograph well, but it tastes good!

When I was a kid, I really didn't like meatloaf. Something about it just doesn't sound appetizing at all, and on the rare occasion my mom would make it, I'd choke it down only with the help of lots and lots of that magic condiment that my uncle's family says makes bad food taste good, and good food taste great.

I'm talking about ketchup, of course! What else? And while it's easy to say that this post is brought to you by my new appreciation for meatloaf as a grown up and my ever present enthusiasm for World War II era everything, there's actually another reason I decided to do a feature on what might be the best vessel for enjoying some sweet, tomato-y sauce.

A few weekends ago, my family and I hopped down to visit my sister for a few days. She's still in college and is currently living in Pittsburgh, a city I'd obviously heard of before she went there, but never really knew or thought much about. As it turns out, Pittsburgh is full of a lot of fabulous restaurants, incredible architecture and a lot of really interesting history. Despite the protests of my less history minded family members, I managed to get in some good sight seeing at places like the Fort Pitt Museum and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.

It was originally developed in the 1890's as a facility for the community to honor Civil War veterans, and the building was dedicated in 1910. As veterans began to pass away, their families began to donate their wartime memorabilia to the memorial, a practice that continued with conflicts after the Civil War. Eventually, it was decided the memorial would also include a museum to highlight some of these artifacts, and now it's home to items from the Civil War to the modern conflicts in the Middle East.

Since these artifacts mostly come from Pittsburgh or other Pennsylvania natives, there's a lot of emphasis on the community during war time, including artifacts like a scale model of the USS Pittsburgh and copies of local newspapers and ration books from World War II.

But one of the coolest places we visited I was a little skeptical about when I first heard its very commercial sounding name: the Heinz History Center. As it turns out, I shouldn't have worried about it spending too much time talking about the history of the company, both because the museum focused on other parts of Pittsburgh's history, but also because Heinz history is actually pretty interesting!

The museum is host to a bunch of rotating exhibits and permanent ones on a variety of subjects. We actually found out they're getting a temporary exhibit on World War II later this month, and I am pretty mad I missed out on it by just a few weeks. I guess I'll need to find a way to sneak down there again sometime soon!

Apart from having pieces of the set from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, a spotlight on famous Pittsburgh athletes and one of the first jeeps ever produced, they have an excellent exhibit on the history of Pittsburgh from its early settlement to today. Predictably, I was most excited by their World War II gallery, which included a uniform and other artifacts from one of the Tuskegee Airmen, another jeep, and a feature on one of the most iconic propaganda images from the period: We Can Do It!

What a lot of people don't realize though is that this isn't actually Rosie the Riveter, and it wasn't a very popular image during the war itself. Not by a long shot! This poster only appeared for two weeks in Westinghouse Electric factories in Pittsburgh and a few other parts of the Midwest, and then basically was forgotten about until the 1980's, when it was rediscovered became adopted as an inspirational feminist image after being included in an article from the National Archives about propaganda art. So, while this is an iconic image of World War II and women's role in it for us, people like say, Molly McIntire would never have seen it before and wouldn't until forty years after the war was over.

Unsurprisingly, there was a large portion of the museum devoted to the history of Heinz itself, which was really interesting! I really only know Heinz for their ketchup, not pickles or baby food or instant meals, and to be honest, I'm pretty sure that's how a lot of people. Even Heinz themselves seems pretty tongue and cheek about their success marketing some of their other products - they're very honest about their failure at conquering the canned food market in the exhibit, and while writing this post, I saw a commercial advertising their new, better tasting mustard! Which I guess means their mustard used to be pretty bad.

I wouldn't actually know. I've never had Heinz mustard, honestly. French's all the way for me.

Out of all the parts of the museum, I actually found myself having the most "wow, I didn't know that!" moments in this gallery. Not only can Heinz boast about being one of the first instant baby food producers in China, but they also offer a variety of international products tailored to the cultures and customs of countries all over Europe, Asia and the rest of the Pacific. Originally focusing on products like pickles and ketchup, Heinz was one of the first companies to really emphasize sanitary conditions while making their products at a time where that wasn't really every company's priority, and its first president assisted the Food Administration during World War I. In the early days of the factories, employees were expected to sew their own uniforms! And most interesting to me, during World War II, Heinz was the company that made most of the canned C and K Ration food fed to US soldiers, sailors and marines serving all over the world. Somehow, I'd never heard that before!

Also, 57 varieties? Has always been kind of made up. The founder just liked the number, and thought it would look appealing to tell people they had a bunch of different products to offer.

One of the coolest displays was a timeline of different products Heinz has offered over the years. Some of them were definitely flops - 1915's canned fig pudding definitely does not seemed to have caught on with an American audience - but others are familiar. Here's Molly with the 1940's display, which explains how during the war, Heinz started producing products in glass containers instead of tin to conserve metal for the war effort, and began introducing vegetarian products, as well as condensed and dehydrated soup.

So, it really only seemed fitting that when I got home, I needed to do a recipe featuring everyone's favorite ketchup. Ketchup and meatloaf just seem to go together the same way peanut butter and jelly do, and meatloaf has been a comfort food for people for generations, especially since the invention of the modern meat grinder! During the Depression and World War II, families liked it because the inclusion of things like breadcrubs and oats made this a cheaper meat dish to make for dinner, and the fact that it didn't require an expensive cut of meat made it even better!

My recipe comes from Molly's Cook Book and is called "vitality meat loaf", stating that the protein in this meat loaf gave Molly vim, vigor and vitality! The book itself doesn't give any information about the history or importance of meatloaf to wartime families, but it does explain in an insert that spam was a part of almost every soldier's diet because it was quick to prepare and good for you. I'm not sure how good spam actually is for you, but it's a cute bit of history that readers might not know much about.

You start off by cutting up a medium sized onion and a fourth of a cup of fresh parsley. This gets thrown into a bowl and mixed together with a pound of ground beef and a half pound of ground pork, a tasty combination, even if I've now got a half pound of ground pork in my freezer I'm not sure what to do with because my grocery only sold them in pounds.

Next comes in the rest of your ingredients: a half cup of wheat germ, a cup of oatmeal, one egg, one cup of evaporated milk, two teaspoons of salt, a half teaspoon of pepper, a teaspoon of sage, a half teaspoon of celery salt and of course, a quarter of a cup of chili sauce.

... Wait. That's not right.

Heinz makes a tomato chili sauce that's supposed to be what's used here, but my grocery store didn't have any. Alas! I decided to just put in plain ketchup and see what happened.

Mixing it together goes pretty easily and it forms a good meaty... dough? Because it's a loaf? Get it? I don't know, folks, it's been an odd week. This all gets packed into a loaf pan as tightly as you can get it.

And then it gets dumped out into a baking dish.

Wait, what?

I've honestly never heard of meatloaf being cooked this way, and was a little concerned how well it would hold up baking in the oven without the walls of the pan holding it in place. But meatloaf is a pretty forgiving dish to make - everyone's recipe is a little bit different, and apparently it can be cooked a lot of different ways! I wondered if maybe this was a way to help stop the fat from just staying in the loaf pan and saturating the slices, because when I pulled mine out of my 350 degree oven after an hour of baking...

There was a lot of grease and fat at the bottom of the pan!

But it smelled really good, and seemed to mostly be in one piece. It was a little hard to cut pretty slices of it right out of the oven, and actually held together better after the leftovers had been refrigerated and reheated. The pictures of the actual slices of meatloaf are from the day after I made it, because I was noshing on leftover meatloaf for the better part of this week.

So, how did it taste?

Good! I mean really, I doubt anyone's surprised to hear that. Although it was a little dry, it was nothing some ketchup couldn't cure, and there was enough flavor in it that it was tasty and homey without being too out of control flavorful. It had a decent texture and again, reheated and kept in the fridge well, which meant I didn't have to worry about dinner for a couple nights - always a good thing! I can definitely see how this would be a really useful recipe to have on hand during the 30's and 40's, especially if both parents were out of the house working. It doesn't take long to prepare, it's pretty cost effective, and it can be made into sandwiches for lunch or just heated up again for dinner the next night.

It's also something an inexperienced or young cook could easily make by themselves. There isn't too much knife work, it's forgiving with measurements, and doesn't get too many pans dirty, which is pretty much the ideal meal for me. I'm really glad I got over my childhood reluctance to eat this tasty dinner, and this is definitely a meal I'm going to keep in my arsenal whenever I'm trying to find something to make myself for dinner that's quick, tasty, and will give me some leftovers to enjoy when I don't have enough time to cook a full meal for myself! I'm definitely not hesitating to call this one a success.

And I'm already thinking about a return trip to the museum!


  1. I am a huge meatloaf fan, and this recipe sounds like a good one to try. Also, thanks for the great travel tips for Pittsburgh. It is now definitely on my list of places to visit.

    1. You're welcome! It's a great city. Let me know if you need restaurant recommendations!

  2. Great post! I love the information on the Heinz museum. I'm from the opposite end of the state, but our stores carry almost all of the Heinz products and we prefer their Worchestershire sauce to Lea & Perrins.

    Anyway, this is an interesting meatloaf recipe. I'm not a fan of onions (they make me breath funny), but the rest sounds cool. Sometimes the grocery store will have "meatloaf mix" in the meat section which is a combination of ground beef and pork (and sometimes veal). If you make meatballs, that combination is good for them too.

    So many good meatloaf recipes out there. Our favorite combines Father Tim's recipe from The Mitford Series Cookbook and Kitchen Read and the one found in the Mayberry Cookbook.

    Thank you again for a great post!

    1. I'm not a fan of onions either in some ways - I like eating them, but I always have a really unusually bad reaction when I'm cutting them, so my eyes sting and I literally can't see after about thirty seconds, haha.

      You're very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

  3. I'll stick with my mom's recipe...btw the ground pork you have left can be fried in soy sauce with scallions & put in a wonton or on a taco for something different.

  4. When it comes to meatloaf, I come from the bread crumb tradition. I tried using oatmeal once, but it tasted weird to me. But the comfort in comfort food usually depends on it tasting the way your mom used to make it. I remember how shocked I was in college when a friend told me that his mom didn't put anything crumbs or other extender into her meatloaf. But he was an only child. My mom had eight kids to feed so her recipe had a high percentage of bread in it. And that's the way I like it. :-)

    1. Wow, I'm not sure how I feel about extender free meatloaf. That's just an oddly shaped hamburger!

  5. Mom (Or me, despite the fact I'm not into red meat these days, I enjoy MIXING IT) makes the meatloafs into individual little "loaves" that are shaped by hand. It's sort of like the theory behind meatballs only loaf sized. This recipe looks like an interesting variation of meatloaf to maybe float her way!

    1. That's so cute! I love tiny food so anything miniature or personal is totally up my alley, I might need to try that next time I make meatloaf. :D