Meatloaf is an easy meal the entire family can enjoy. It’s an American comfort classic most grew up on. But have you ever wondered where meatloaf originated and how it became so popular?
The roots of meatloaf date back to the fifth century! Way before America was discovered.
A loaf of minced meat was mentioned by Marcus Gavius Apicius (a Roman gourmet) in his fifth-century version of a cookbook called De Re Conquinaria (“The Art of Cooking”). That recipe included cooked animal brains, bread, wine, and seasonings that were formed into a patty.
After becoming popular in Rome, it spread to other European countries. Versions from Germany and Scandanavia are closest to the meatloaf we know today. In Sweden, it’s served with mashed potatoes or boiled potatoes. Germans stuff their version with hard-boiled eggs.
As people emigrated from Europe to America, they brought their homeland recipes with them and it influenced cooking. The Pennsylvania Dutch settlers of the 18th century made scrapple as a way to use every bit of a slaughtered pig. Leftover bits of pork were combined with organs from the pig and simmered. Cornmeal was added to the meat and formed into a loaf. Once set, the loaf was sliced and fried. A predecessor to what we now know as meatloaf.
Meatloaf gained its stride after the meat grinder was invented by German Karl Drais in the 19th century. The ability to grind large quantities of meat quickly, along with gains in refrigeration, helped the popularity of ground meat grow. Also, manufacturers produced recipes that used this new invention in hopes to get get more consumers to use ground meat.
This became extremely important as the Great Depression set in. People were forced to stretch what they had in their kitchen. They did not have access to high-quality meat or had a limited supply of meat. Using a grinder meant that a tough cut of meat could be ground into something much more tender and usable.
Cooks were looking for ways to make their meals feed more with limited ingredients. Packaged goods manufacturers noticed this and began putting meatloaf recipes on their packaging. In the 1930s, goods like pre-packaged bread, crackers, and oatmeal grew in popularity. These were fillers that would bulk-up the meatloaf and provide the moisture it needs.
This was the beginning of meatloaf being American comfort food.
Since the Depression, meatloaf has continued to evolve. The ingredients have remained the same – ground meat, a filler of some sort (like bread crumbs, Panko, or oatmeal), an egg, and seasonings.
Nowadays, though, cooks are experimenting with the types of meat (equally combining pork, veal, beef) and seasonings (like turmeric or chili powder). Some prefer to serve with brown gravy while others think ketchup glaze is a must. It’s even served with a mashed potato frosting.
Meatloaf has come a long way since the fifth century! Try this comfort classic for dinner tonight.
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Bacon Wrapped BBQ Meatloaf Stuffed with Cheese
Instant Pot Meatloaf and Potatoes