Retro Recipes: Banana Meat Loaf, 1941
Welcome to Retro Recipes! Brought to you from the capable kitchen of Eat Me Daily's Stephanie Butler, each week revisits a preparation from the past that straddles the line between ingenious and absurd. This week: Banana Meat Loaf.
I am forever indebted to a certain reader of Retro Recipes, who in a series of excited emails recently introduced me to the online treasure trove of questionable vintage recipes that is the Beatrice McIntosh Cookery Collection at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Not a traditional cookbook library, the McIntosh Collection highlights New England cuisine at the grassroots level. Its focus is threefold: cookbooks complied by community organizations like women's groups and PTAs, pamphlets made by regional food corporations, and "ephemera": a hodgepodge of menus, advertisements, postcards, and other food-related artifacts that were never intended to be preserved as historical documents.
It's hard to pick one recipe to cook out of a selection like this one, but Banana Meatloaf jumped out as an obvious choice. It's from a 1941 publication called Bananas: How To Serve Them, produced by the Boston-based Meloripe Fruit Company, and upon first read this recipe screams desperation on the part of some lowly banana account man. But it makes a strange sort of sense: what other main course besides meat loaf can you throw bananas into and even remotely get away with it?
What would Kenny Rogers cook?
But before we get to the banana meatloaf, let's get back to Beatrice McIntosh. For a fan of vintage cookbooks, a collection like this one might well warrant a trip to Amherst. Just a simple regional search focusing on California (although the collection focuses on New England, there's much to be seen from other states) leads you to some real gems. Where else are you going to find a 1936 copy of a pamphlet by the California Walnut Growers Association called To Win New Cooking Fame Just Add Walnuts? Or a book created in an Oakland print shop entitled, Lo, the Mighty Potato? My two favorites have to be Asparagus All Ways…Always (who knew asparagus could be wistful?)and Cooking With Kenny Rogers(surely the man behind "The Gambler" has a kick-ass chili recipe).
A Meloripe meat loaf
Other than the inclusion of the bananas, Meloripe's meat loaf reads like an old fashioned, simple recipe. It doesn't have anything in the way of spice, except for some black pepper and powdered mustard. The one tablespoon of chopped onion provides a mere suggestion of flavor, and the cup of soft bread crumbs adds extra fiber, but not much in the way of taste. While most meat loaves are bound by egg, the mashed banana does that job here, and I was curious to see if the banana flavor came through past all that ground beef.
The wise men of Meloripe recommend using green-tinged bananas to make this meat loaf, which was surprising, since all recipes I've seen involving mashed bananas call for overripe ones. I mashed them by hand, since I figured that your standard 40s housewife would not have a Cuisinart at the ready, which resulted in chunks of banana studding my meat loaf, which was less than attractive. (If you've got issues with seeing how sausage is made, trust me: you really do not want to see the banana meat loaf process.) I put my loaf in the oven with a bit of sadness: more than any other Retro Recipe, I was sure, this one seemed doomed to fail.
An hour later, the loaf was bubbling and ready to come out of the oven. It wasn't great-looking – it came out thin and grey, and quite a bit of meat got stuck to the bottom of the pan, even after I'd put olive oil in the bottom of it. I wasn't looking forward to tasting it, but my hunger — combined with a post-Halloween hangover — got the better of me. I broke off a crusty bit and popped it in my mouth.
Holy crap, banana meat loaf is delicious. I didn't taste banana at all, just a sweetness that combined with the tangy mustard to create some entirely new meaty sensation. It was more like a good breakfast sausage than anything else. I'd rather use the leftovers crumbled in a frittata or savory bread pudding than a sandwich. Not that there were many leftovers, though: I had two slices topped with a generous amount of ketchup before I had to quit, and the rest went quickly enough. So if you have some extra bananas around the house, don't limit yourself to banana bread. Throw in a pound of ground chuck and make it a meat loaf. You'll thank me for it. And Beatrice McIntosh.
Recipe: Banana Meat Loaf
From Bananas: How To Serve Them, 1941
1 pound ground beef
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Mix the beef, crumbs, onion, salt and pepper until fully incorporated. Add the mustard to the mashed banana and mix into beef. Pack into oiled loaf pan and bake at 350 for one hour, or until cooked through.
– Stephanie Butler