The Deliciously Inventive History of Meatloaf
Long a food of the poor, the classic meatloaf has evolved into an American cultural favorite
For many people, one of the most satisfying comfort foods is meatloaf. Meaty and filling, it pairs perfectly with mashed potatoes and vegetables, especially when big appetites are involved. The dish is an American classic, but how old is it and where exactly did it come from?
The typical meatloaf is ground meat (usually beef) combined with seasonings and binders like eggs and bread crumbs. It is then baked and often topped by a glaze or gravy. While it can be a table pleaser, it’s also a budget saver, as a substantial dish can be made using lower-priced and less luxurious ingredients.
Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer of Bon Appetit write that the earliest versions of meatloaf appeared in medieval Europe, and around the fifth century in the Mediterranean region, there was a dish of finely chopped meat scraps combined with fruits and spices into a loaf. A minced loaf of meat, wine and bread was also included in the Roman cookery collection called Apicius. Even this rudimentary version was clearly designed to stretch food and make use of every possible scrap.
Cultures that have the strongest historical connections to meatloaf are Germans, Scandinavians and the Dutch. German-American scrapple recipes, which consisted of formed loaves of pork odds and ends after a butchering, were an early example of a forerunner to meatloaf in the States.
The various ways to utilize meat scraps into loaves appeared sporadically in various areas over time, and meatloaf eventually became embedded in the United States as a favorite.
The first modern American meatloaf recipe, consisting of chopped beef, salt, pepper, onions, milk-soaked bread and eggs first appeared in 1870s. However, instead of being the dinner classic we know today, it was originally meant to be a breakfast option.
While meatloaf may seem like an inordinately heavy morning meal, it’s important to remember the number of people who lived and worked on farms when the concept emerged. When a person could burn thousands and thousands of calories during any given day due to back-breaking work, a hearty…