Monday, December 07, 2009


Cold has finally come to the top of the map. Minnesota, that means. Canada has its own map. I got to thinking about comfort food. One comfort food I haven’t had much of recently is my mother’s ham loaf.

So when my wife agreed the other day I went to the market to scare up some essential ingredients. I knew what I needed because I have my mother’s recipe. The recipe is on a 3x5 lined card in our extensive file of recipes. It’s a stained card showing that somebody making or baking something had handled it in the past. In fact, when I look at the card I see it’s written in my mother’s hand. Which means it isn’t precisely complete. “Add milk if necessary.” What does that mean? Presumably if the mix is too dry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I go to the market. At the meat market I ask for three-quarters of a pound each, of ground pork, ham and veal. One of the butchers looks at me with an amused glint.

What? I wonder. I say, I can come back if….I gesture.

No no, he says, it’s just we don’t have three quarters of a pound wrapped.

You want it mixed, of course, says another. He grins and starts ripping open packages. Pound packages, I assume. He eyeballs the pound of ground veal and whacks off what looks to my untrained eye like precisely three-quarters of the lump. Pretty soon he’s got his fingers all over my ground veal, pork and ham. After he mixes and wraps and weighs an d labels, he hands me the package and smiles. Ham loaf, I bet, he says.

Making ham loaf tonight? M y wife asks while gazing at the big lumpy package of ground meat in the refrigerator.

So I nod and drag the package of meat and other ingredients out and assemble tools. I find the recipe card. Soon I’m measuring, mixing and I’m back in a different kitchen. My mom is doing something in the sink. She looks over her shoulder and says mix it well, but don’t squeeze it together. Do you need milk? Is it too dry? I guess I shrug, what do I know?

I shrug and she comes over, pokes a finger in the big bowl and nods. Give it a splash or two. When I turn back from the refrigerator, I’m back in my own kitchen. I add a little milk and the egg and mix the pile thoroughly, her gentle admonishment still in my head.

Set the oven baking temp and wait.

Some time later the oven does its thing and the house is filled with memories and the smell of onions and salt and heating ham, veal and pork. Mouthwatering odors.

Yes it was a success. The resulting ham loaf was excellent.

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