- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Growing up in Texas, chef Gavin McMichael used to ask his mom to make meatloaf for his birthday each year. Now that he has his own restaurant, meatloaf is on the menu, along with quail stuffed with foie gras.

“I was a huge fan, so of course I had to have meatloaf on my dinner menu,” said Mr. McMichael, a partner in the Blacksmith restaurant in one of the fastest-growing sections of Oregon. “We are creating foodies as fast as we can. Then they want to try things like foie gras.”

Mom made meatloaf to stretch the food budget. Dad ate it because it tasted good, especially with lots of ketchup. Now baby boomers are ordering it in restaurants. Meatloaf may not be tops on the healthy food list, though it can certainly be made that way with lean meats and lots of veggies. But this comfort food that became an American staple during the Depression is hanging on, growing up and branching out.

“It has graduated from diner food into restaurant food,” while remaining a home-cooking staple, said Andrew Smith, editor in chief of the “Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.”

“It is real American food. It is something that is part of our early lives and part of our heritage.”

The 1884 “Boston Cooking School Cookbook” has recipes for ground veal mixed with bread crumbs and eggs, baked in small individual molds.

“A big old loaf of meat would violate the American Victorian sense of decorum,” said Lynne Olver, editor of the Web site Foodtimeline.org.

The word meatloaf appears regularly in the New York Times in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Depression and World War II made stretching food dollars imperative. But it was the 1950s when America “embraced” meatloaf.

James E. McWilliams, author of “A Revolution in Eating, How the Quest for Food Shaped America,” sees meatloaf’s roots in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal made by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial times.

“It’s a food that’s quite consistent with an American attitude,” Mr. McWilliams said. “It is so open to interpretation and flexible. Its origins are humble.”

About 10 years ago, cookbook author David Rosengarten started seeing meatloaf tarted up with wine sauces in New American Cuisine restaurants, but now finds it in neighborhood bistros, where it is treated with respect in the classic style, with ketchup.

At the Blacksmith restaurant, Mr. McMichael mixes ground beef and pork with eggs, cream, roasted tomato puree, poblano chilies, shallots, garlic, onion and Japanese bread crumbs. He bakes individual loaves in cylinders, and serves them with a tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean-carrot-and-onion saute, and creamed corn.

Mr. Smith said he expects meatloaf to keep going strong. His children like it, and the reasons it became popular — low cost and good taste — remain.

“It’s very good wholesome, nutritious food, depending what you put into it,” he said. “And I like my way better than in the restaurant. Because it’s my way and reminds me of what my mother made.”

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