And even though the maple tree outside my kitchen window hasn’t started dropping it’s leaves yet, it’s the time of year when we cozy up in the evening with blankets and thoughts of comfort food seem to satisfy the soul. After all…it’s months away from bikini season again, right? *
Home cooking. Foods that linger in the oven. Kitchen fragrances. Rich, satisfying, full flavors that go as far back as our memories allow. It’s memories of my Grandmother’s kitchen or my Great Aunts… The familiar phrase (from Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel), “You Can’t Go Home Again,” is true, but recreating these dishes is as close we can come.
Here’s the dish that James Dean came “Back Home Again…” and again for… Aunt Ortense’s homemade meatloaf. One of his favorite meals. This recipe comes from Ortense’s personal, handwritten, recipe collection…and is another, that arrived too late to be included in my book, Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean. It’s simple and classic. An easy dish to pop in the oven next time TCM is showing Rebel… or East of Eden on TV. This is definitely the food that fueled the rebel appetite. I have several other versions of meatloaf in the book; a deliciously gourmet version from Rock Hudson; Ortense Winslow’s Ham Loaf (another favorite of Jim’s); and Stewart Stern’s (scriptwriter for Rebel…) “Meatloaf With a Cause,” the meatloaf that he made for the cast during script read-throughs. Jim went back for 2nds, and 3rds. Stern’s version includes beer and raisins (I know, sounds weird…but it’s wonderful) and is probably my most favorite. I suggest you try them all!
A shorter version of this blog story appears in the official James Dean Remembered international fan club print publication, The Deanzine, coming out at the end of November, 2017. If you’re a fan of James Dean, you won’t want to miss all 3, full-color, information-packed issues that come out each year. Info on how to join is at the link above.
*– (Note; This blog entry was written back in the first week of November… The Deanzine had difficulties with the printer this month, so its release date was a little delayed. Only Pam, the Deanzine editor, stresses out about such delays…for the rest of us, The Deanzine is ALWAYS a treat worth waiting for! Here in Greece, the last leaves have now dropped from that maple tree…no more raking for this year, the olive harvest has wound down, and the next wave of bright yellow flowers are starting to proliferate in the wild areas.)
(Rosemary Clooney sings, “Back Home Again In Indiana” from her 1993 album Still On the Road.)
James Dean traveled back to his home in Fairmount, IN several times in the last few years of his life. After his high school graduation in 1949, Dean moved to California; enrolling in college and initially living with his father. Trivia question for the James Dean fans: How many times did James Dean go back home?
The 1st visit back, was Oct 15-20, 1951; a “surprise” visit when he traveled down from Chicago. Jim had made the decision to move to New York City; with aspirations to join The Actors Studio, furthering his acting career. He rode to Chicago with Rogers Brackett (Rogers was traveling there to do a radio job). The first thing Dean did upon reaching Fairmount, was look up Adeline Brookshire Nall (Jimmie’s drama teacher in High School). With her assistance, Jim was allowed to deliver a 90 minute talk to the Fairmount High School student body (the high school principal had only agreed to 50 minutes) about his experiences in acting in California and the pursuit of careers in the arts. The talk included a demonstration of Jim’s recent passion, bullfighting; Jim with his matador cape, a student as the bull. He also joined in on basketball practice and the play rehearsal (keeping students at the school until after midnight, to the dismay of a few parents). He returned to Chicago, where Bracket sent him on to New York.
His next visit came on Oct 9, 1952. Jimmie coerced his New York roommates, Bill Bast and Dizzy Sheridan to hitchhike back to Indiana with him (luring them with promises of Aunt Ortense’s home cooked meals). It was a time of financial struggle and career hardship for all of them. Jim’s father was visiting Indiana and had phoned, offering to make a new dental plate for him if he could make it back to Indiana (Jim lost his front teeth at a young age, from an accident while playing basketball). The 3 rode the bus to the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, and then thumbed their way to the far end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Nightfall was approaching and all they had eaten all day was an ice cream. They were picked up by a passing Nash Rambler, driven by Clyde McCullough. Clyde was the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and member of the National League All-Star Team. He was driving overnight to Dubuque, IA for a game the next day. He treated the trio to dinner (and even offered to help them out with a few dollars, which they politely refused) before dropping them off along the highway. Uncle Marcus came to pick them up.
“It was the freshest air the 3 of us had smelled in a long time,” remembers Dizzy. “I wish everyone could have been with us in Indiana to see the way Jimmy treated the animals, even the dirt around the farm. The love he had for nature showed me how completely simple he was.” Over the next few days, they woke up early each morning; went horseback riding; target shooting; Dean showed off stunts on his old motorcycle: and LOTS and LOTS of eating. Winton (Jim’s father) made the dental plate, as promised. “He gave Jimmy 2 new front teeth,” recalled Dizzy. Jim again visited Adeline at the Fairmount High School, assisting with the ongoing, student play rehearsals. Bill and Dizzy accompanied Jim to visit his mother’s grave in Marion.
Rogers Brackett phoned the Winslow farm house to inform Jimmie that he was needed back in New York to read for a part in the upcoming Broadway production of See the Jaguar (1952 [see the Oct posting about this] ). With bellies full of Ortense’s good home cooking, the 3 reluctantly hitchhiked back to NYC.
An article, the following week in The Marion Leader-Tribune reported, “James Dean, New York City, a former Fairmount drama class student, who has starred on television shows and has held parts in film productions, was in Fairmount last week, conferring with Mrs. Brookshire and her students. He was accompanied to Fairmount by William Bast and Elizabeth Sheridan.”
Dean’s next visit came on Thanksgiving, Nov 26, 1953. He rode his Royal Enfield motorcycle through bitter, icy cold weather from NYC to arrive back home for the feast in Fairmount. He spent his free time studying for an upcoming role in the Broadway production of The Immoralist (Feb 1954). He visited Bill Fowler, a radio announcer in Marion, and taped several 10 minute interviews with him.
Ortense was very worried. She made sure Jim wore a ski mask and heavy gloves for his return trip. Near Harrisburg, PA, the fuel bearing on his motorcycle gave out. He decided to trade the Royal Enfield in on a new Indian 500 that caught his eye at the local dealer/repair shop. It was maroon with gold stripes. He stayed at a boardinghouse for the days it took his Uncle Marcus to send the Royal Enfield papers from Fairmount, and his New York agent, Jane Deacy, to send his previous 2 paychecks ( 1 from the Kraft Television Theater, and 1 from Robert Montgomery Presents) to pay the difference.
On Feb 12-17, 1955, Dean flew in from Hollywood, accompanied by photographer Dennis Stock (they were introduced by Rebel Without a Cause  director, Nicholas Ray). Dean and Stock were shooting a photo essay, recreating Jim’s Fairmount childhood for Life magazine, in anticipation of his starring role in the about-to -be-released, East of Eden (1955). Like Dizzy Sheridan before him, Stock noticed that Dean was most comfortable on the farm among the barnyard animals, “I saw an awkwardness of purity there that I wanted to capture. I wanted to get to the roots of that earthy quality he had.”
It was then, that Dean fully realized “you can’t go home again.” Stock observed that Dean was less at ease when they went into town. Everyone had seen him on the TV dramas and knew of his big Hollywood movie. They treated him differently, and his reactions were different too; dictated by a world of outside experiences. He attended the Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Ball being held at Fairmount High School. He obliged the students by signing autographs and put on an impromptu, Conga drum show.
“The Winslow’s were the kindest, warmest, most generous people, and it was very moving how much they loved Jimmy,” recounted Dennis. A former high school friend gave them a lift back to Indianapolis, where Stock and Dean flew on to NYC; photographing Jim reliving his times there. Jim had filled his jacket pocket with wheat from the farm. He munched on the wheat kernels during their drive to Indy. Stopping for lunch before the flight, Jim drew “furrows” in the soil of a planter box next to the table, sowing the grains of wheat. All 3 laughed about the prospect of a patch of wheat growing there.
Jim only came back to Fairmount 1 more time; this time to stay. Following the tragic accident that took his life on Sept 30, 1955, James Dean’s body was flown back to Indiana for his funeral and burial in Park Cemetery on Oct 8, 1955.
American meatloaf is a fascinating subject! The familiar loaf, that conjures childhood memories for many of us, has roots that date back more than 1600 years. It’s one of America’s top comfort foods.
The 1st written account of something resembling meatloaf appeared in a Roman cookbook from the 5th century. The Apicius de Recoquinaria includes a recipe for chopped meat, mixed with bread, wine, and pine nuts, and then baked. This was a book intended for wealthy households (the only ones who could read), written in Vulgar (common) Latin with Greek titles. It’s 10 chapters cover household hints, recipes for meats, poultry, beans, grains, vegetables, and seafood (including several exotic recipes, like the one for flamingo).
Nearly every European country has it’s own traditional version of a meatloaf-like dish. Some are stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, others include dried fruits into the mix. In America, meatloaf can trace it’s roots to the Pennsylvania Dutch who have made a dish called Scrapple, since Colonial times. Scrapple was an economical pork dish, of meat scrapped from the bones, mixed with organ meats, broth, and cornmeal, then cooked to a mush and pressed into loaves. Once the loaves set, the scrapple is sliced and pan fried. (Still a popular regional dish.)
In 1899, the 1st printed recipe, for what we would now call an American-style meatloaf, appeared in a cookbook. It’s creation and popularity were owed to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the meat grinder. By 1906, a home meat grinder could be had for $1.75. It promised to process 1 1/2 lbs of meat per minute. Previous to this development, meat had to be minced in a large wooden bowl with a curved-bladed knife that was rocked back and forth. The technique was very labor intensive.
Advances in refrigeration and the growth of the meat packing industry in Chicago also contributed to meatloaf’s rising popularity, but the tragedies of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the 2 World Wars, elevated meatloaf to a necessity level on most household menus. The quantity of meat could be stretched with the addition of fillers like bread, cracker crumbs, and left-over vegetables, enabling homemakers to provide a nutritious meal for less. Meatloaf was a versatile solution. Lesser cuts of meat could be used when most choice cuts of beef and pork were being rationed.
The 1940s also saw a plethora of “meat-free” loaf recipes in cooking pamphlets and newspapers; ideas to help provide healthy meals when meatless days were the requirement. Who knew vegetarian meatloaves date back so far? The availability of commercially produced, prepared sauces, like Worcestershire sauce, bottled ketchups, mustards, and chili sauces, made it possible to to provide lots of flavor from humble components.
Post-war America embraced the meatloaf for it’s convenience and versatility. Women, who had worked outside the home during the war years, were now more interested in careers than spending time in the kitchen. One-dish meals were the choice.
Meatloaf went through a 1950s makeover. A “frosted meatloaf” was “iced” in mashed potatoes (cake-style) and lavishly garnished for the casual dinner party. The 1955 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook featured such imaginative variations as the Sherry-Barbecued meatloaf, The Mushroom Stuffed meatloaf, The Bacon-Dill meatloaf, and The Spicy Peach meatloaf. Betty Crocker (the fictional figure-head for General Mills) re-invented the loaf, using ring molds…filling the ring’s center with colorful, side-vegetables. Wrapping, frosting, garnishing, glazing, saucing, and decorating your meatloaf was definitely the way to go.
Surprising to me, the “modern meatloaf” movement seems to have been isolated to America. A vintage food blogger friend of mine in London (Jenny of SilverScreenSuppers.com), “discovered” the wonders of meatloaf in just these last couple of years. She LOVES it now, but had never made, never seen on a restaurant menu, or never even TASTED meatloaf before in her life. Hard for Americans like me to imagine. She took a fast poll around her office in response to a private conversation we were having about this blog… 1/2 of those polled have never had it, and only 2 mentioned their “mums” used to make it in the 1970s. Meatloaf just doesn’t seem to exist there. Perhaps this culinary cultural divide can be attributed to the devastation suffered by England in WWII…the availability of meat at all…what little meat that was available, was possibly used to flavor a meat pie…??? Whatever the reason, meatloaf has just never caught on there.
By the 1970s, the meat department of most US supermarkets carried “meatloaf mix;” consisting of 1/3 beef, 1/3 veal, and 1/3 pork. Meatloaf was here to stay.
In more recent years, meatloaf went through a retro-chic resurgence, elevating the roadside diner special and lunch-counter staple to new heights…high-end restaurants started offering the once $2 slices of nostalgia, for $20 or more. Meatloaf continues to evolve; still popping up in trendy restaurants and food trucks, touting new “ethnic-fusion” twists on this all-American classic.
Whether served hot from the oven or cold in a left-over meatloaf sandwich…meatloaf is one of America’s favorite comfort foods.
Regardless of the variation, meatloaf has only a couple of basic rules. The 1st would be that the ground meat MUST be supplemented with a grain filler…without it, the meatloaf will be too dense. Some common fillers include bread, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, rolled oats, or cornflakes cereal… The filler should be 1/4 to 1/3 of the total loaf. Any less, and the loaf will lose it’s light texture; any more, and your dinner companions will perceive you as cheap and stingy with the meat.
The 2nd rule is some sort of egg or dairy as a binder. The binder is necessary for the loaf to hold it’s shape (whether baked in a loaf pan or hand-formed and baked on a sheet pan)…
The interaction of rule #1 and rule #2 (a combination of bread and milk, or similar) is known to culinary authorities as the PANADE. It has the dual purpose of providing the “glue” for your loaf AND providing moisture.
Beyond that is the topping. There are probably as many variations as there are cookbooks. Some are baked on top of the loaf, some served on the side. Some are tomato-based (with brown sugar and powdered mustard), some are more like a meat gravy.
3/4 cup ketchup
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons of powdered mustard (or prepared)
2-3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
Mix and spread on top of loaf before baking (or cook on stove top to serve on the side).
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice. (Brown rice is really good [if you have time for twice the cooking period]. It adds lots of nice texture to the finished meat substitute. I used white rice in the video.)
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups water
3/4 cup uncooked lentils
1/2 a vegetable bouillon cube.
Sauté uncooked rice in butter in a sauce pan over high heat, until rice starts to sizzle and some of the grains start to turn golden and fragrant. Add water and bouillon cube, and allow to come to a boil. Add Lentils, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Do not stir. Cook 20 more minutes (if using white rice), covered, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside, still covered, still un-stirred, for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork. Puree 1/2 the combination to consistency of a paste. Mix back into the rice/lentils, adding the following herbs and spices to (trick the tongue) approximate the flavor of meat in the final dish (don’t be put-off by the long list…you can omit any of them) …
About 1/2 teaspoon each of black pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, sage, smoked paprika, sugar, with a pinch of cumin, anise. rosemary, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, a dash of liquid smoke, and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. A 1/2 cup ground walnuts and /or 1/2 cup finely grated cheese (Parmesan works well…I often use Halloumi cheese [a cheese from Cyprus, Greece] that I grate and pan fry until brown), REALLY make this meat substitute a success!
Here’s another great trick… I like to add a couple teaspoons of grated beets to my meat substitutes. It doesn’t do anything much flavor-wise, but it mimics the color of uncooked meat. After cooking your meatloaf (or burgers), it will have a nice, golden brown exterior and a “medium-well” pinkish cast to the inside. I keep a couple of cooked beets in the freezer, just for this purpose.
Use in place of the meat in this recipe, adding egg, onion, tomatoes, butter, salt, and cracker crumbs, forming into a loaf and baking. (I often do this up in bigger batches, then freeze the excess in ready-made burger patties.) The veggie version of this loaf really benefits from an added tomato glaze on top.