Another Downton Day has come and gone in the UK, and sadly there is only one more episode left in Season 3. Will fans host lavish finale parties in celebration or mourning? Who’s to know for sure, but the show has inspired a new found interest in cuisine from that era. So if you wish to host a finale party or a Downton themed costume party, you may find my online guide to be helpful in your planning. Otherwise, check out the 100+recipes here or or Downton’s Eat Drink & Be Merry Pinterest site to help bring Downton into your own home.
I have to admit I was a bit distracted watching last night’s episode. We had a lovely traditional roast beef and Yorkshire dinner with Lord D’s cousin Lady L and her charming husband Lord A. They shared stories of their world travels, visiting ruins off the beaten path all over the world. They blessed me with an amazing book from the Titanic written the same year as the sinking.
Lady L has been working tirelessly tracing the family ancestry, and I was amazed that she has been able to trace the family back 32 generations to the Medieval era. As we shared my tea treats, she revealed some of the highlights which read like an episode of Who do you Think you Are? I affectionally call my husband Lord D, but his family history appears steeped with noble blood, and littered with many interesting characters, which I may reveal in the future, with Lord D’s blessing. When you uncover family history, you gain an appreciation and comfort for who you are.
It is like exploring food history; many foods have evolved over time and not merely created. New generations of cooks often develop variations of traditional dishes, using new technologies, and more readily available ingredients.
The Long History of Meatloaf
While we enjoyed a lovely roast beef dinner with Lady L and Lord A last night, I thought meatloaf was a good analogy for today. It is a comfort dish with a surprising long history. North Americans are all too familiar with meatloaf, which has never quite gone out of fashion. And although modern meatloaf is an American innovation, its ancestry spans the globe, and centuries, dating back to Roman times. In Medieval Europe, our ancestors mixed together odds and ends of cooked meat, mixed in fruits and nuts and other fillers and then molded the dish into pie-shaped disks called pastez. Grand tables of 17th century France featured loaves of chopped meats and offal (intestines) which was preserved with the beloved gelatin. In America, it appears that meatloaf evolved from scrapple, from 18th century Pennsylvanian Dutch settlers who utilized scraps of pig carcass, mixing with cornmeal and seasonings, boiled into mush which was pressed into loafs and then pan fried. My 1920s version of the 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cookbook
contains a recipe for “Miss Daniel’s Meat Loaf” which called for finely chopped pork, veal and beef but also a German Loaf which instructs forcing the meat through a meat chopper.
Our modern meatloaf was helped along with the invention of the meat grinder by Karl Drais in the 19th century. Before the days of refrigeration which allowed safe storage of ground meats, butchers would mince meat in front of customers. Eventually the meat grinders entered into homes which allowed home cooks to mince or grind their own meat, making meatloaf (and other hamburger dishes) accessible to every housewife. A time saver and the design hasn’t changed much. I have fond memories of my mother’s hand-cranked meat grinder which she would attach to the kitchen table like a vice when it came time to grind our farm raised livestock for meatloaf, meat balls, or Salisbury steak. Of course now we can safely buy ground meat at our local grocer.
There are as many variations to meatloaf as there are family traditions, but the basic formula is ground meat, chopped vegetables, seasoning and binding (bread crumbs, rice, oatmeal). Veal was once meat of choice because it was less expensive. Many versions are rolled like a jelly roll, stuffed with cooked chopped vegetables. Lord D enjoys it when I stuff whole soft boiled eggs, which looks lovely when sliced.
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil; more for the baking sheet
- 1 onion finely
- 2 cloves. minced garlic
- 3 lbs ground meat, all lean beef or combination of
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 lb. ground veal
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup fresh plain breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 1-1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
- 1/2 cup of croutons (for the baking sheet)
- 3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Additives: Add additional cup of finely chopped raw vegetables with onions to saute. Some cooks will add a bit of beer or other liquids to add unique flavour.
- Stuffing: make use of left over cooked vegetables (mushrooms, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes) which you you can use to stuff your meatloaf which creates a decorative swirl when sliced. Make sure you finely chop the vegetables before stuffing.
- Toppings: Bacon lovers will wrap the meatloaf to create a crispy crust, but we try to be more health conscious in our house so this is a rarity.
Makes 1 large loaf or 4 small individual loafs.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Add a small amount of vegetable oil to a skillet, add the onions and cook over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients (except BBQ sauce and croutons) and add the cooled onion-garlic mixture. Feel the love by mixing with your hands just until the ingredients are combined. Don’t go crazy.
- Shaped Meatloaf: Shape the meatloaf into one large loaf or 4 small individual ones.
- Stuffed Meatloaf: If you plan to stuff the meatloaf with cooked chopped vegetables, flatten into a rectangle on wax or parchment paper. Spread with vegetables and tightly roll. If you would like to try soft boiled eggs, place peeled whole boiled eggs lengthwise along the bottom edge and tightly roll so the egg will end up in the middle. Seam should be on the bottom.
- Oil a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan, and place the croutons in the middle for the meatloaf to rest on. This prevents the meatloaf from becoming too soggy, and creates lovely flavourful croutons to serve alongside the meatloaf.
- Baste the meatloaf with the BBQ sauce to make a nice crust.
- Bake the meatloaf until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F, 50 to 60 minutes for a large loaf, or 25 to 35 minutes for smaller loaves. Before slicing, let the meatloaf rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow some carryover cooking and to let the juices redistribute.
- To serve, decorate a plate if you like with what you have on hand. I often use baby spinach and cherry tomatoes. Slice and serve the croutons alongside or on top of the slices. Lord D enjoys his slice with HP Sauce.
Own your Own
Tools of the Trade
While cooks in Downton’s era may not have had exactly the same type of kitchen gadgets, Victorian cooks did start the craze for creating a tool for each job in the kitchen, so I blame our ancestors for my obsession with collecting these time savers.
I do love the hunt in my local cooking stores, but you can order this stuff directly from Amazon so you have more time to watch Downton.
While you can buy grinders to attach to your Kitchen Aid, you can still buy manual meat grinders which look very much like their ancestors.