My late mother was a wonderful cook. But, oddly, it was no fancy or complex dish that she was best known for; it was her meatloaf. My childhood best friend always begged to be invited to dinner on meatloaf night. And after I grew up, when my mother was looking to do something special for me, she knew she could always succeed if she made a meatloaf for me.
Many years ago I acquired the recipe from her. But, good cook though I am, I could not duplicate the results. Finally I gave up, threw the recipe out, and resigned myself to eating my mother’s meatloaf only when my mother herself cooked it.
Six years ago, she died. Almost immediately thereafter, I hurried over to reclaim her recipe box. But my stepdad had already trashed it. “What did you do that for?” I howled.
“I don’t cook like that. I didn’t need it,” he replied with a shrug.
“But I wanted it,” I wailed. “And I’m sure Laurel [my daughter] wanted it too.”
“Sorry. Too late.”
I reported the dismal news to Laurel: “All of Grandma’s recipes are gone…including her meatloaf. Grandpa threw them all out.”
Laurel was disconsolate.
But I’m not a person who gives up easily. I could by no means recall the written recipe from many years ago when I’d had it, but I’d sat and watched her put the meatloaf together often enough. Now what was it she did…?
She used fresh bread, crumbed, and mixed with garlic put through a press. How much? She used herbs…that was the whole secret to her meatloaf, the herbs. But which ones? She used a pound of chuck. Of that I was sure. She’d tried to use less fatty beef for health’s sake, but she’d reported to me that it didn’t work, the results were inferior, and she was going back to chuck. She used Sacramento tomato juice (how much??), and salt, and pepper. That was all I could remember.
I bought the needed ingredients, set them out on the counter, and preheated the oven. Utilizing my own good cooking judgment, I used what I thought seemed the right amounts of everything, and the best choice of herbs. I pretty much remembered the methodology. Then I put the loaf into a loaf pan, poured more tomato juice gently over the top, and placed it nervously in the oven.
And waited with bated breath.
I’d written down what I was doing as I was doing it, amounts and all. So I had the recipe…well, I had a recipe. But what would this re-creation taste like?
An hour later, I opened the oven, removed the pan, and cut into the still-steaming loaf.
Ah…. It was my mother’s meatloaf. It was PERFECT. This time, even without instructions, I had nailed it. Exultantly I called my daughter and shared the news.
My mother’s meatloaf is back in the family, not lost after all. And good as ever.
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Author of over 50 published books, including The Cook-Ahead Cookbook(Bristol/Nitty-Gritty) and many books on other subjects, Cynthia MacGregor is a full-time freelance writer/editor. She is available to write, edit, ghostwrite, and do public speaking. Her website is www.cynthiamacgregor.com, and her email is Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com. She lives near West Palm Beach.