Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sheboygan Is Fun To Say: Ethel Holbrook's Ham Loaf

So far, we've had a savory pie, a starchy pudding, and a jammy cake from The County Fair Cookbook. We've looked at Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky. What should we hit today?

...how about Sheboygan, Wisconsin? Just about 50 miles north of where Chefly Husband grew up, the Sheboygan County Fair isn't in Sheboygan proper, but rather in nearby Plymouth, WI. It's held Labor Day weekend, for five days, which means that this year, it starts this Thursday. If you're anywhere near, you can go to an ecumenical church service on Sunday, or a square dance, or you can just indulge in bratwurst done the right way.

The right way, of course, is to boil them in beer with onions, and then grill 'em. If you've never had a brat done right and done by a citizen of the Badger State, you're missing out, I can tell you that for free. They know their processed meat in Wisconsin. With that in mind, let's look at some processed meat!
Ethel Holbrook's Ham Loaf
"It's really my aunt's recipe," says Ethel.

Serves 6 to 8

1 egg
1 1/2 cups milk
3 slices white bread
1 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground ham
3/4 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 cup pineapple juice

• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1. Beat the egg and milk together; soak the bread in the mixture for 10 minutes or longer.
2. Combine the meats with the soaked bread, salt and pepper, mixing them well, but gently so as not to compress the meat. Put into a greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.
3. Make the topping. Mix the brown sugar, mustard and pineapple juice together. Spread this paste over the loaf. Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the top is brown and bubbling.
Is it just me, or is it delightful to remember that "meat loaf" can use all sorts of meats, not just those coming from a cow? Odds are, you're not going to be able to find pre-ground ham at your grocery store. If you have the means, grind it at home; if not, chop it up in a food processor, or mince it really, really, really fine. Knife work is very therapeutic. Take out your stress on some ham!

Perhaps the first time you make this, you'll want to try it in a loaf pan. However, I never, ever make meat loaf in a loaf pan. Ever. I like to cook it on a rack on a jelly roll pan, so that fat flows out more easily, and more of the surface gets brown and crisp and lovely. I'd also suggest that if you're going to bother to make meat loaf, especially one that requires you to do your own grinding, that you just double your batch, and make two.

There's nothing finer in this life than a meat loaf sandwich.

Since we've pig two ways, I'd be tempted to either line the pan (if using) with bacon strips, or top the loaves with bacon strips before saucing them up. Your mileage may vary, but when it comes to options, Take One Cookbook is very much in favor of exercising the bacon option early and often. Everything is better wrapped in bacon.

Now, you may take note of the two "to tastes" in the ingredients list, as well as the raw meat. How, you might wonder, are you supposed to do anything "to taste" if the frickin' meat you're seasoning is raw? Unless you want nasty evil disease, it won't "taste" until it's cooked!

...well, yeah. You're solution's right there. Take a pinch of the meat mixture, about the size of a filbert/hazelnut, smoosh it down into a wee patty, and fry it up in a hot pan on your stove. Then, taste it. Is it properly seasoned? If not, adjust. If so, onward! If you've exercised the bacon option, remember that it will likely bring a lot of salt to your mix, so don't over salt. If you do over salt, and you catch it in the tasting stage, add more stuff that isn't salt. More meat. More filler, if you must. Adjust, retest, retaste.

Have I waxed lyrical about my love of cheesy pineapple/brown sugar/ham pairings yet? Suffice to say, I love 'em, and will have to remember to take out one of the Trader Vic's recipe booklets at some point here. I'm pleased to see them come up in this dish, and would suggest that a pinch of ground cloves would be a welcome addition, based on how I spice up my p/bs/h dishes.

I don't want the vegetarians and anti-pig-eating folk to go away from this post empty handed, so I'll say this:

It's terribly fun to say "Sheboygan." Sheboygan, Shebogan, Sheboygan!


  1. You know, even when I ate meat, I wasn't that fond of ham. So in addition to those who don't eat meat at all or pig in particular, there's also the ham-avoidant to consider.

    And am I the only one who finds it odd that Ham Loaf contains more ground beef than ham?

  2. No, you're not the only one. There's more pig than cow, but...still.

  3. By the way the right way to make a bratwurst is to grill first then boil them with beer, onions, and butter. I am a born and raised Sheboyganite, that was taught by his parents and grandparents!