I love October in Oregon. The days start out cold and foggy, the afternoon turns sunny and warm (at least that’s the way it is this October), then the dark comes early. And October means grape harvest here in Oregon wine country.
In many ways, harvest is the very best time of year for us. We put our heads down and we concentrate on what we really do here, make wine. Throughout the rest of the year, we are still making wine, but it’s almost in the background, we’re also thinking about marketing and sales and inventory and health insurance and employees, and all the other things that keep a business going.
But in October there is so much to do in the cellar and it all happens at once, there isn’t time to worry much about all of that other stuff. We make wine and we eat. I’ve written before about how important it is for us to take care of our people. You can read about it here if you like. But to sum it up, we hire lots of extra folks to work for us during harvest and they work long, hard hours. It has become a tradition at our winery that I cook for the crew. They come to dinner at our house almost every night.
It’s a lot of work, but so worth it. I used to think that someday we’d evolve to the point that we’d hire someone else to cook for the crew. But now I know it will always be me. Not only could I never give it up, but every once in a while I am reminded by a chance comment from one of the crew how much it means to them.
My 21-year-old nephew has come to work harvest this year, all the way from Chicago. This is his first foray out of the big city, and certainly his first harvest. The other night a harvest veteran (not of our winery, but of several of our neighbors, its his first year with us) was chatting with my nephew at the table and I overheard him say “Lots of wineries feed their crew during harvest, there’s always food around, but it’s not usually homemade. There’s a big difference between a catering pan of mystery chicken, and a homemade dish like this one. You can taste the love.”
Early in this harvest season some of the veterans, including my children, started asking for meatloaf. Randomly, every few days or so, while we were sitting around the table laughing and talking, someone would pipe up and ask “when are we having meatloaf?” or “are we going to get meatloaf this year?”. Every year I cook many of the same dishes for the crew. When you know what works to feed a crowd and warm their bellies, you stick with it. I rotate through a lineup of the tried and true, and often throw in a new dish as well, one that sounds intriguing and has all the right stuff for a harvest meal. So they know the meatloaf is coming, and apparently they can’t wait. I had no idea. I knew it was popular, but all of a sudden meatloaf night has started to take on epic status around here.
“Sure this is good, but wait till you have her meatloaf. It’s amazing!” Oh my. After half a dozen or so comments like this, the new guys were beginning to wonder what this legendary meatloaf was all about. And I was beginning to wonder if my trusty recipe could ever live up to their expectations.
Eventually, I announced that meatloaf would be served on Tuesday.
On Monday morning I was tearing through the winery getting ready to head up to a wine tasting in Portland and one of the crew who has worked for us a long time but almost never comes to dinner (we eat too late and the food is too “fancy” for him) stopped me and announced he would be joining us the next night. Word had spread. By now I was laughing out loud about this epic meatloaf. Who knew they were all so attached?
When Tuesday night finally rolled around, this was the scene in my kitchen. They were all laughing and talking, telling stories and waiting for their dinner.
My recipe is based on one I gleaned from Martha Stewart years ago. Naturally, I’ve tweaked it over the years. Now I add chopped bacon to the meat mixture and omit her recommended veal. I also put more ketchup into the meat mixture as it helps it to stay moist. I’ve written those changes in the recipe. Delicious! I served this with Creamed Spinach and Baked Potatoes.
When they’d taken a few bites one of the guys stood to make a toast to me, and then they all followed suit. A standing ovation for meatloaf? Those guys are pretty silly. And pretty sweet.
- 3 slices good quality white sandwich bread
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 1 medium onion cut into chunks
- 1 celery stalk cut into chunks
- 1 medium carrot cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 3/4 pound bacon, chopped
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup ketchup, divided
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon dry yellow mustard
- Preheat the oven to 375. Pulse the bread in a food processor until finely ground. You should have about 2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs - if you have more you can freeze them for another use. Transfer to a medium bowl.
- Put the garlic and all the other vegetables along with the parsley leaves in the bowl of a food processor and finely chop (use the pulse mode for this). Add this mixture to the breadcrumbs.
- Add the meats, the egg, 1/2 cup ketchup, the dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix together gently, using your hands.
- You could cook this in a 5 x 9 loaf pan, but I just shape it into a loaf form with my hands. I line a sheet pan with parchment paper and form two loaves right on there.
- Stir together the remaining ketchup, the brown sugar and the dry mustard until smooth. Brush on to the top of the meat.
- Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 160 degrees. Remove from the oven, cover in foil and allow to rest about 15 minutes. Using two spatulas, lift the loaf up off the sheet pan, leaving all that fat on the pan there, and transfer the loaf to a cutting board. Slice and serve.