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.
P.S. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the finished product. I was too busy having a good time!