Contestant, Illinois State Fair, 2017

Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance


Illinois State Fair

August 11, 2017




Meatloaf – the food of nightmares
Amy Wertheim, Atlanta, Illinois



According to the history books, Meatloaf seems to have originated in Ancient Rome, where it appears in 5th Century cookbooks. However, Modern American references to meatloaf first appear in print in 1899, shortly after the invention of mechanical meat grinders.


Today’s Meatloaf popularity seems to date back to the Great Depression and World War II due to economic hardship and wartime rationing. The various fillers that can be found in meatloaf, such as bread crumbs and eggs, helped to lower the cost of the meal by taking the place of some of the meat. But even beyond the United States, Meatloaf is a popular dish in Germany, Cuba, Greece, Mongolia and other countries.


But I stand by my first statement…. Meatloaf IS the food of nightmares, at least my nightmares, as it was the method of murder my mother used to rid us of….. well, I’m getting ahead of myself.


Meatloaf has always been a staple, a standard, a special tradition in our family during certain eventful gatherings; specifically, my grandfather’s birthday. Not a big fan of cake, my grandmother would fashion the meatloaf into sort of a “cake” for him, decorating with “ketchup icing”, mashed potato “flowers” you get the idea. Every year it was a different theme, shape, decoration, etc. And then of course, other times when it wasn’t his birthday, it was the typical half football oblong blob at Sunday family dinners. And since my dad “loved” meatloaf too, my mom made it like every other day for him; okay, maybe not every other day, but it sure seemed like it!


Now back in the day, you ate what was put before you. And God help me, the adults in my life were overly generous with the slice of meatloaf. There are only a few things I absolutely did not like to eat – spaghetti, chop suey, sauerkraut & brats, and meatloaf. And no matter how I tried, asked, begged, whined, cried, sat in pouty silence, I was always given a healthy slab of the yuck, er meatloaf.
At least I was until that fateful day in January, 1970 ….


It was a typical supper time – meatloaf with the cooked on ketchup sitting on the table mocking me, knowing I was going to have to choke it down, or sit there until bedtime if I didn’t. So, trying not to gag, and drinking a ridiculous about of water to try and wash the taste away, I finished every last bite, escaping to the back porch to play with Tutu, our spider monkey.


Tutu has come to us via my Aunt Libby, my dad’s younger sister, who received it as an 18th birthday gift from their older sister Aunt Franny. But since Libby left for college that fall, and she couldn’t take him, we got to keep him by default. That was back in the day, where every pet store sold monkeys, parrots, and other exotic animals.


Now Tutu could be so sweet, taking treats from you or he could be evil, screeching and throwing his feces at you. Luckily, Tutu and I were buds; Mom and Tutu, well, it was a day-by-day, “what kind of mood is Tutu in” kind of relationship. Mom has recently taken to feeding Tutu leftovers from dinner; although Spider Monkeys are primarily fruigivorous preferring a diet of 90% fruit and seeds, Tutu loved his meat. I know, he was a strange one. Dad would even slip him a bite or two when he was grilling on the back porch (this was where Tutu’s cage was located to majority of the year). So, it wasn’t unusual that Mom brought Tutu some leftover meatloaf to enjoy. And off to bed I went…….


Only to awaken to a DEAD TUTU! Mom had poisoned my beloved monkey with HER meatloaf! And she’d fed me that same meatloaf – was I going to die??? Everyone tried to convince me that the meatloaf hadn’t killed Tutu. They even took him over to the U of I medical clinic to find out what had happened …. the “official” findings were that Tutu was actually suffering from pneumonia, but in monkeys, they said we would have never known he was sick as they rarely show any signs of sickness until too late, but I KNOW, the REAL REASON Tutu died — it was the meatloaf and I have proof…


A few years later, my Aunt Franny adopted a pet chimpanzee, named Nicky. Nicky was adorable! But along about her second birthday, when chimps start to mature, it suddenly began attacking any males randomly; my dad or brother could just be sitting there and she’d attack out of the blue, sometimes drawing blood! It was only after my dad threatened to feed her meatloaf if Aunt Franny couldn’t figure out how to control her that Nicky was made her go to her cage when people were over so if it really was pneumonia, why the mention the meatloaf ? ? ?
And that is why, to this day, and since I was 4-years-old, I have never eaten another piece of meatloaf made by anyone, anywhere. And for all those family gatherings where meatloaf was the “featured” item, they always made a special meal just for me.


So please enjoy my family’s long-standing killer, to die-for, one-of-kind meatloaf. And don’t worry, you’re not a monkey or a chimp, so what do you have to worry about?






Meatloaf – the food of nightmares
Amy Wertheim, Atlanta, Illinois


Great-Grandma’s Meatloaf Cake


2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 medium onion, very finely chopped (1/2 to 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup horseradish
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 eggs
3/4 cup bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups of water for steaming in oven
2 tablespoons water
3 3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup of your favorite bbq sauce


Preheat oven to 350°F.


Combine all ingredients except water and ketchup in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to quickly and thoroughly combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to overnight.


Mix the ketchup and bbq sauce in a small mixing bowl; set aside. Place the meat into two (2) greased bread pans, dividing the ingredients evenly between the two pans and generously brush the tops with the ketchup and bbq mixture – saving approximately 1/2 cup for later. Place 4 cups of water in another cooking pan and place both the bread pans and pan of water in the oven, baking for 50 minutes or until meat tests done, approximately 155°F.


Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides of the loaf from the pan and place on serving dish. Drizzle the extra ketchup/bbq sauce leftover from earlier on top much like the icing on a cake.


Garnish, parsley; serve and enjoy. Serves 8 to 12 servings