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A Brief History of Meatloaf

614 - Diabetic Gourmet Magazine

Food history is full of surprises. The history of an American staple, for example - meatloaf - offers more than a trip down culinary lane. It provides a glimpse into how advances in technology have shaped the way we eat and prepare food today.

I was intrigued to discover that my grandmother’s hand-cranked grinder, the kind that attaches to the edge of a table, was key to meatloaf becoming an everyday dish. Cooks relied on it, particularly in the early half of the 20th century, until butcher shops installed refrigeration units that were able to reliably store more perishable chopped meat. In fact, when my mother bought chopped meat at the butcher – well into the 1960s – she made him grind it in front of her so she was sure that he used a clean machine and that he gave her the lean ground round she asked for.

Early meatloaf recipes called for veal, which was less expensive than beef at the time. The meat in one widely published version was first cooked then chopped, blended with other ingredients, molded, then cooked again into a loaf.

Recipes indicate that meatloaf as we know it today – blended with bread or cracker crumbs, egg and seasonings, then baked in a rectangular pan – gradually became popular between 1900 and the 1920s. Among the most popular early recipes were several created by the Quaker Oats Company using their product as binder in place of breadcrumbs.

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Binder is an essential meatloaf ingredient because it creates an even, smooth texture. In addition to whole-wheat breadcrumbs, oats or even cooked rice, it can include a generous amount of finely shredded or chopped cooked vegetables like spinach, carrots or the broccoli used in this recipe. Nutritionally smart, the vegetables help keep a meatloaf nicely moist.

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Also note that stuffing the meatloaf with veggies and preparing individual portions, helps to regulate the serving size. Experts recommend limiting red meat consumption to just 18 ounces per week. These pint-sized, yet hearty cups provide less than 3 ounces each.

Broccoli Stuffed Meatloaf

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients